Truck driver makes a long haul into climate politics
When Jeremy Stinnett, a truck driver from Yamhill County, sees kids gesturing for him to blow his rig's horn, he's happy to pull the cord to let out the loud blast.
"I remember what it meant to me as a kid," said Stinnett.
After driving truck professionally for more than 20 years, he said the sound still means a lot to him.
On Thursday, Feb. 6, Stinnett was driving one of the nearly 1,000 trucks in a convoy organized by the Timber Unity Association that descended on Salem to protest a greenhouse gas-reduction bill. Stinnett was worried the bill would effectively crowd people like him out of the state's economy. He said that politicians pushing the legislation envision a future that involves him moving to the city and taking a "clean energy job," a scenario he finds unimaginable.
For Stinnett, trucking is not just a profession but a social fabric he's spent much of his life in.
On Thursday's drive, his CB radio was alive with banter from other convoy truckers. While it's hard to make out, Stinnett has listened to the crackly voices on the radio for so long he has no trouble understanding it.
On the radio were people from across the state Stinnett was happy to hear from, as well as his father, brother, former coworkers, friends — a community.
'A tax money grab'
A husky man of 40 who wears a goatee, work boots and mesh hat emblazoned with #TimberUnity, Stinnett remembers his first time driving a big rig. He was 14 and his father asked him to drive a dump truck to clean up their 52-acre property. He was nervous at the time. "I decided I wanted to go make some money doing it," he said.
He seamlessly operates the 18-speed 2016 Kenworth w900 v model six-axle cab truck his employer let him use for the rally. His days begin anywhere from 2 to 4 a.m. He drinks Rockstar energy drinks almost every day while hauling logs to companies that turn them into paper and wood products. "I like being in the woods," he said. He likes the scenery and the challenge of driving in difficult weather.
He works an average of 65 hours a week. On the road, he listens to country music stations and the "Lars Larson Show," a conservative talk radio show.
Stinnett votes but is unaffiliated with a political party. He wasn't involved in politics until he heard about the greenhouse-gas reduction bill from a friend and was so alarmed by it that he decided to travel to Salem to talk to lawmakers.
Stinnett said that he keeps a third of whatever the truck makes in a day, which ranges from $900 to more than $1,000. He said that the legislation would dry up the demand for timber and push fuel prices so high that his company might not survive.
While the legislation has been modified to delay some new costs, Stinnett said it's just a matter of time before lawmakers push them forward.
He believes in climate change but pointed out that Oregon accounts for just a fraction of the world's carbon emissions. "So, it's basically a tax money grab," he said. "And it's not gonna help anything. That's not gonna help climate change."
Truck horns fill the air
As he drove down the highway, he passed under a banner posted to an overpass with a message aimed at the convoy: "The future is electric, good buddy."
But Stinnett said that electric trucks won't hold a charge and the prototypes he's seen just aren't suited for his job.
He passed under another banner proclaiming that children demand "bold action" on climate change. But he said his 7-year-old daughter loves riding in his truck. "She loves being the woods with me," he said.
As Stinnett entered Salem, a grin cracked on his face. He said that the number of trucks was so large it didn't even compare to last year's rally. He drove his truck to the Polk County Fairgrounds and greeted a friend, pointing out a scuff mark on his truck and pulling out his phone to show off a recent mishap of his own.
After boarding a shuttle run by ecoShuttle to ferry protesters to the Capitol, he continued to banter with other truckers about their rigs. As the shuttle neared the Capitol, the sound of truck horns filled the air. For Stinnett, it was encouraging. "You're going to hear a lot of that today," he said.
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