By Angelita Sanchez
As a board member for #TimberUnity Association, a grass-roots group, I recently attended the annual economic summit of coastal legislators in Florence. I wanted to hear firsthand lawmakers’ plans for the February session, specifically any attempts to revive the cap-and-trade tax that failed earlier this year. You see, I’m one of those truck drivers who stormed the capitol in June. As a rural, sixth-generation Oregonian, I’m one of the people Portland-area politicians think they’re saving by passing a climate change tax that they’re refusing to call a tax.
As a woman and minority business owner of a small trucking company, I am responsible for providing jobs to my employees. When my husband died only four months after I started my business, not only did my obligations to my employees grow, but so did my responsibility for my three children. There is little room for luxuries in our lives. I work hard just to feel like I’m barely getting by.
At the summit, I was politely schooled by a state lawmaker about grants and programs that the cap-and-trade program would generate to help upgrade my older trucks. I patiently explained my trucks are so old, and money in my company is so tight, that even with taxpayer-funded grants, I’d never be able to afford it. She was unaware the grants she was talking about also don’t apply to trucks like mine, even though she’d voted for the bill. Being able to manage fuel costs determines whether there’s money left over to support my family after all other business costs are met. Any proposal to raise fuel costs would put me out of business.
This lawmaker’s world isn’t my reality. I’d lamented over what type of business attire I should wear since my business attire is suitable for driving trucks, not fancy offices. After hearing one attendee whisper criticism of someone who’d worn jeans and question if that person was “raised in a barn,” I can only imagine what they said about me.
I watched everyone eat until their bellies were full. Free food, wine, crab, and liquor…meal after meal, drink after drink, provided by sponsors – many of whom are the same donors and political special interests who make direct cash contributions to have access to these lawmakers. I don’t know one person, me included, who can afford to indulge like that. They talked about “polluters” but had no shame in the food they wasted, conference materials discarded in the trash, and the mess they left behind.
I felt embarrassed for the legislators that dined for free, knowing some voted to tax the rest of us out of our jobs. They were oblivious to how disconnected they are from people like me. Some panelists argued climate change was an Oregon issue, but cited federal statistics, brought in leaders from California, speakers from big corporations in Illinois, and utopian ideas from their fact-finding missions to Canada and Peru. Meanwhile, these same lawmakers who said they’d listen to rural Oregonians didn’t seem to care for our concerns, shutting down panelists whose opinions didn’t support their climate-change tax.
The inconvenient truth is a new tax won’t change the climate crisis, but it will create a human crisis of lost jobs and broken communities.
I’ll never forget the opening remarks at the conference about the impact ofcost increases to small businesses: “A 10-cent increase in the cost of making donuts recently put a local bakery out of business.” Permanent, escalating fuel prices from a climate-change tax will put me out of business. Politicians, used to being wined and dined for free, won’t acknowledge that many Oregonians budget down to the penny. Literally, every penny.
Rural Oregonians and those who work the land are addressing climate change. Foresters maintain healthy forests, planting more than they harvest. Farmers and ranchers manage climate effects in every aspect of their work. Truckers know you can upgrade our rigs but being stuck in traffic jams which Oregon politicians won’t fix destroys any carbon-emission savings. Fishermen keep habitats clean and thriving and have put forth innovative ideas to deal with ocean acidification and warming waters.
Oregon leaders: we are waiting to talk with you, not have you talk at us. A cap-and-trade program is an ineffective solution designed to raise new taxes, not fix the planet. Stop pretending to be “climate warriors” when your actions undermine your words. We’re not buying what you’re selling, and unlike you, we don’t eat for free.
Sanchez is the owner of Angel’s Rock-N-Roll Construction in Lebanon and a board member of #TimberUnity Association, a grass-roots group representing truckers, loggers, farmers, and workers across natural resource industries.