Congressman Steps Up Attack On Koch Brothers For Detroit Petcoke Pollution

CREDIT: AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

Rep. Gary Peters, D-Mich., addresses supporters during the Michigan Democratic election night party at the MGM Grand Detroit, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012.

The Democratic candidate running for Michigan’s upcoming open Senate seat is accusing billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch of turning Detroit into their own personal trash can.

On Friday, Rep. Gary Peters scheduled an event near the area of the Detroit river where large piles of petroleum coke — the black, dusty byproduct of tar sands oil — once stood. Peters reportedly scheduled the event to tie the existence of those piles to both the Kochs and Republican opponent Terri Lynn Land, and announce an endorsement from the League of Conservation Voters, according to a blurb in Politico.

City residents were so angered by piles of petroleum coke, or “petcoke,” that were illegally stored along the Detroit River last year that then-Mayor Dave Bing demanded the piles be transported away. The company that stored the piles, Detroit Bulk Storage, is currently appealing Bing’s decision in court, arguing that they have the right to store those piles along the river. Though Detroit Bulk Storage stored the petcoke, the petcoke itself was owned by Koch Minerals LLC. Detroit Bulk Storage has confirmed that it was storing it on behalf of Koch.

The Koch brothers are widely regarded as the largest customer and supplier of petcoke in the U.S., according to a report in the Windsor Star.

The state’s Department of Environmental Quality regulators have said the petcoke “has low toxicity as it sits there in a pile.” But citizens and local elected officials, including Peters, have raised serious concerns about the dust invading their air and water supplies and demanded that the long-term effects of the substance be studied.

One of those concerned citizens was Jacques Driscoll, whose local restaurant, Green Dot Stables, borders the Detroit river. Driscoll provided the event space for Peters’ event on Friday, saying he supported a candidate who would make sure the piles wouldn’t return, according to a report in

That report said Discoll had to regularly sweep thick dust from his patio, fearful of health impacts on his then-pregnant wife and then-unborn child.

“That was a huge weight… the whole time this was going on,” Driscoll said. “It was scary and a bit of an extra hassle and a headache.”

Peters’ event is just one small peg in what has been a long battle between the sitting Congressman and the Koch Brothers, whose Americans for Prosperity conservative political advocacy group has mounted a multi-million dollar ad campaign against him. In February, for example, the group launched a $1 million three-week blitz against Peters, who is running to replace retiring Sen. Carl Levin. Most of those ads attempt to hold Peters accountable for his vote supporting the Affordable Care Act, and use a cancer-stricken woman’s experience that has been widely debunked by journalists who have pointed out that the woman will actually save more than $1,200 a year under the law.

As petcoke is a product of oil from the Canadian tar sands — of which the Koch Brothers are the largest owners — its existence in the United States as a waste product gathering in communities will only be compounded if the Keystone XL pipeline is approved. The pipeline would bring 860,000 barrels of the oil through the U.S. every day, leaving a lot more petcoke building up around refineries, and cities like Detroit wondering what to do with the mess.

Tiffany Germain contributed research to this article.