July 18, 2014 at 4:20 pm

Peters: Kochs spending against his senatorial campaign to 'continue their polluting ways'

U.S. Rep. Gary Peters said Friday billionaire industrialists are spending millions of dollars to defeat his candidacy. (David Coates / The Detroit News)

Detroit— U.S. Rep. Gary Peters said Friday billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch are spending millions of dollars to defeat his candidacy for the U.S. Senate so they can resume polluting the Detroit River with petroleum byproduct runoff.

Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group funded in part by the Koch brothers, has spent $6 million to date in Michigan’s Senate race attacking Peters, largely for voting for the Affordable Care Act.

Peters, a Bloomfield Township Democrat whose 14th District includes parts of Detroit, has been battling Koch Minerals LLC’s storage of petroleum coke on a lot along the river in southwest Detroit for the past two years.

After raising concerns about air quality and that the pet coke was running off into the river, the owner of the storage lot in southwest Detroit removed the massive piles of the coal-like material.

Peters sought to link the Koch brother’s pet coke piles and campaign cash designated for his defeat in a fiery speech to 3,000 Democratic Party activists attending the annual Netroots Nation conference Friday at Cobo Center on the banks of the Detroit River.

“It is clear that the Koch brothers do not care about Michigan, they do not care about Detroit, they have an anti-middle class agenda and they are trying to buy this election so they can continue their polluting ways,” Peters said. “We will not let them buy this election.”

Peters faces Republican Terri Lynn Land, the former secretary of state, to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Carl Levin in the Senate next year.

Netroots Nation conference organizers have said they gave Peters a featured speaking slot because Michigan’s U.S. Senate seat is crucial to Democrats maintaining control of the upper chamber of Congress in 2015.

Peters called the Koch brothers his “biggest opponent.”

Republicans have noted Peters also is getting help from a billionaire California environmentalist, Tom Steyer, who has reportedly committed to spend $50 million of his own money and raise $50 million more from donors to reward candidates who believe climate change is man-made and needs policy attention. Earlier this year, Peters attended a fundraiser for Democrats in Steyer’s San Francisco home.

Peters told Netroots activists Friday that his Senate campaign will emphasize “that climate change is real, it is a threat and we need to deal with it now.”

Representatives at Americans for Prosperity’s Michigan chapter could not be reached Friday morning for comment.

'Political odd couple'

Peters introduced Friday’s keynote speaker, Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the Wall Street-battling icon of progressives.

“Elizabeth Warren has been a voice for those who do not have a voice,” Peters said.

Warren also is in Detroit to raise money for Peters’ Senate campaign against Land.

Hundreds of Netroots attendees donned “Warren for President” hats and waived signs encouraging her to make a 2016 White House bid, even though she has said she will not run. Warren used her time on stage to espouse principles of the progressive movement and decry the power and influence Wall Street financial institutions, corporations and billionaires have over members of Congress.

“The game is rigged and it isn’t right,” Warren said. “We can whine about it. We can whimper about it. Or we can fight back. I’m fighting back.”

Anticipating that Peters and Warren would share the spotlight together, Land’s campaign labeled Peters a “Wall Street insider” in a new web ad released Friday morning before the speeches.

Peters did not address Land’s attacks in his speech, but instead criticized her for not saying whether she would have supported the 2008-09 federal bailout of Michigan’s auto industry.

As Land’s own resume has come under scrutiny after a recent Detroit News article, her campaign and Republican allies have sought to turn the attention to Peters’ background. Peters spent nearly two decades managing Detroit-area branch offices for the investment firms Paine Webber and Merrill Lynch before getting into politics.

Land’s campaign web ad Friday highlighted that Peters has accepted more than $2 million in campaign donations from the finance, insurance and real estate industries.

“Wall Street knows Gary Peters’ talk is cheap, but the Wall Street cash he rakes in isn’t,” a narrator says in Land’s web ad.

A National Republican Senatorial Campaign spokeswoman said Warren’s ties to the Occupy Wall Street movement and Peters’ previous work as a “Wall Street broker” make them “a political odd couple.”

“If history has taught us anything it’s that Gary Peters will do or say anything to save his political career, including pretending to be someone he’s not,” NRSC spokeswoman Brook Hougesen said in a statement.

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Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren addresses the Netroots Nation ... (David Coates / The Detroit News)