As Senate candidate Gary Peters faces a flurry of critical news reports about his personal investment in an oil industry giant, it’s worth remembering that Congressman Peters in the past repeatedly promoted clean-energy technology and berated those who supported the oil companies.
In his first congressional campaign in 2008, Peters routinely blasted his Republican opponent, then-Rep. Joe Knollenberg, as a George W. Bush ally in the House who voted to prop up “Big Oil.”
He chastised the incumbent congressman for accepting $66,000 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industries and in a press release he said: “Gary Peters is committed to putting Michigan jobs and industries first, and he refuses to accept campaign contributions from Big Oil interests.”
Now, Peters is trying to fend off criticism of his $19,000 stock purchase in a French oil company that produces petcoke – the oil refinery product that the congressman has called a major threat to health and the environment. Revelations have come forth of other cash infusions by the candidate into companies with questionable environmental track records.
As he pledges to hold onto his oil investment, among those publications raising the hypocrisy issue are: The Daily Caller, The Washington Examiner, the Washington Free Beacon, Fox News, the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News.
One sample headline: Democratic Senate Candidate Refuses To Sell Stock In The Thing That He Called ‘The Dirtiest Fuel’
Peters’ response has been consistent: “It’s clear that stocks that I may have in my retirement account have nothing to do with my public positions that I take.”
Beyond Peters’ May investment in Total S.A. France, the fifth-largest publicly traded international oil and gas company in the world, the firm’s American affiliate runs a large refinery in Port Arthur Texas that produces petcoke -- petroleum coke, a dusty byproduct of refining tar sands oil.
Peters emerged last year as a leading critic of petcoke after mounds of it were piled on the banks of the Detroit River by the Marathon Refinery. But the Port Arthur petcoke piles were also controversial and the company in 2013 was hit with an $8.7 million fine for violating environmental regulations.
A couple of odd things about this situation:
· * Peters won’t budge though the amount of stock is just a small portion of his portfolio. And his most significant supporter, California billionaire Tom Steyer, whose NextGen Climate Action group is spending millions of dollars to boost the congressman’s campaign, took a very different approach. When Steyer got out of the hedge fund business and became an ardent environmentalist, he pulled out of his investments in oil and oil pipeline companies.
· * The League for Conservation Voters, a leading environmental group in the political arena, is still contributing to Peters’ campaign even as revelations have come forward that his portfolio includes investments in companies that are associated with oil, petcoke, fracking, and coal production.
His Republican Senate opponent, Terri Lynn Land, believes the environmental issues are the reason that she is now in a statistical tie with Peters in one poll and enjoyed an uptick in her prospects from the New York Times. (Most polls show Peters with a lead.)
"With less than 50 days to go until Election Day, Congressman Gary Peters is crashing in the polls due to countless reports of his hypocrisy piling up. Gary Peters invested thousands of dollars in petcoke that he says is polluting Michigan, despite saying he's an environmentalist,” said Heather Swift, the Land campaign spokeswoman.
As for the Peters camp, they are thoroughly frustrated that environmental issues, which were supposed to be one of the congressman’s greatest strengths and one of Land’s greatest weaknesses in this election, have become muddled.
They point out that billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, whose industrial empire was responsible for the petcoke piles on the Detroit River, are spending millions of dollars on TV ads for Land’s campaign.
“She’s trying to distract from the fact that the Koch brothers, who are responsible for piling up pet coke along the Detroit River, blowing into people’s homes, blowing into the Great Lakes, that they’ve invested $6.5 million in her campaign,” Peters said earlier this week.
Still, Peters seems to have a serious perception problem here.
To mangle together a couple of phrases, he appears to be saying “Do as I say … and don’t follow the money.”