Two representatives of Oregon’s #TimberUnity movement were at the White House Monday, where they had been invited to hear President Donald Trump deliver remarks on “America’s environmental leadership.”
The president had invited Todd Stoffel of GT Stoffel Trucking and Marie Bowers of Bashaw Land & Seed to represent Oregon’s trucking, logging and agricultural industries.
“It’s not very often that you get invited to the White House, especially as a rural Oregonian,” said Bowers. “Just the honor of that was pretty astounding.”
The president’s invitation came after the 2019 Oregon Legislative session, which brought thousands of rural Oregonians — along with their tractors and trucks — to the Capitol in Salem to protest controversial climate bills such as House Bill 2020, a bill to limit carbon emissions.
The group #TimberUnity, which Stoffel and Bowers represented at the White House Monday, started as a grassroots effort to fight HB 2020 and is now a registered political action committee devoted to standing up for loggers, ranchers, truckers and other working-class Oregonians.
In his speech Monday, Trump focused on his administration’s environmental achievements. He said his priorities were promoting the “cleanest air,” “crystal clean” water, reducing carbon emissions and “being a good steward of public land.”
The president invited his various administration officials, including Environmental Protection Agency Chief Andrew Wheeler and Interior Department Chief David Barnhardt, to take turns at the lecturn.
Trump has raised the ire of environmental groups by rolling back more than 80 environmental regulations and withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris climate change accord.
In his speech, the president said he withdrew from the Paris agreement because it disadvantaged American workers and taxpayers.
“Punishing Americans is never the right way to protect the environment,” he said. “We will defend the environment, but we will also defend American prosperity.”
Trump also said that he does not support the “Green New Deal” Democrats in Congress are pushing for, which he claimed would cost the U.S. nearly $100 trillion.
“That’s not affordable even in the best of times,” he said.
Bowers, who helped lead the fight to kill HB 2020 in Oregon, said she agrees with the president.
“My biggest takeaway from this weekend is that you shouldn’t ‘fix’ the environment at the cost of jobs,” she said. “The two aren’t mutually exclusive.”
Bowers said that she and Stoffel, along with the rest of the #TimberUnity movement leaders, are continuing to formulate what their movement means and what it will stand for moving forward.
“There are a lot of issues we could stand for that don’t get attention,” she said. “The main thing is that we’ll be advocating for natural resources and working people.”
Stoffel couldn’t be reached for comment after the event but said last week there are parallels between #TimberUnity and the national uprising of rural, working-class Americans who have become more vocal since Trump took office.
“This is a voice for rural Oregon, rural America, that we’re tired of being steamrolled, which is what a lot of the policies seem to do for us. The stuff that’s passed is about the big cities, especially in Oregon. There are other parts of the state of Oregon other than just Portland.”
The Timber Unity movement casts itself as purely grassroots, according to several Republican lawmakers and protesters.
However, they are in part financed by Stimson Lumber CEO Andrew Miller, a frequent GOP donor who is prominent on the Timber Unity Facebook page and has a letter explaining his $5,000 seed donation on their website.
Stoffel said he didn’t know what their current funding level is. Its political action committee shows $31,457, according to state campaign finance records.
A GoFundMe campaign that popped up when the group was getting organized received money from several sympathetic business partners, though the group has moved to a direct funding channel on their website.
Stoffel said Timber Unity shut down the GoFundMe as organizers learned it didn’t comply with state requirements to report political spending and contributions.
Timber Unity’s website shows its organizers as three truckers: Jeff Leavy, Adam Lardy and Scott Hileman.
The White House invitation is the apparent culmination of several weeks of national attention on the Republican walkout, which was picked up by outlets from the New York Times to Vice to Fox News.
At least one environmental advocate worried it could “deepen” divides between parties on the issue of how to tackle climate change.
“Growing up here, there was not this strong, partisan us-versus-them divide,” said Meredith Connolly, Oregon director for Climate Solutions, which was a strong supporter of cap and trade. “And I think adopting this mantle of Trump’s White House and his agenda, I fear, will deepen those divides here in Oregon, and I want us to be moving forward toward solutions that work for all of Oregon. And I think the more this is influenced by Donald Trump’s divisiveness, I worry this will take us in the wrong direction.”
Stoffel said issue is rural versus urban, Republican versus Democrat.
He said Democrats at the Legislature “snubbed their noses” at loggers and truckers who wanted to understand the bill. Republicans embraced them, he said.
But it was Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, who ended the walkout and standoff over cap-and-trade by announcing that his own caucus didn’t have the votes to pass the bill.
“The rural parts of this country have been ignored for years,” Stoffel said, adding Trump’s election proves that. “The majority of Americans are tired of the same old, same old.”
Stoffel said he understands the majority of voters put Democrats who ran on cap and trade in office, but said that’s because rural voters have routinely been pushed down. They stay home because they know they will be “steamrolled” by the Democratic agenda, he said.
Democrats and environmentalists pushing climate legislation said House Bill 2020 was tailored to protect rural Oregon, driving dollars from the cities to projects in rural communities.
Stoffel said that could be true, and many might be misunderstanding the bill, but if so, that’s on Democratic lawmakers for not taking the time to clearly explain it.
“If you read the bill and you read all the legal jargon, the normal person cannot figure out what they are saying,” he said. “When we were in the House and Senate chambers, they read so fast and push everything so fast, that you can’t understand what’s going on.”
Stoffel said the invitation shows rural voices in Oregon and other states across the country are being heard.