How we make the call
Truth Squad assigns five ratings to the political statements we review, in descending levels of accuracy:
|Who||Citizens for Anthony Marrocco|
|What||“Clean water means healthy families” 30-second video|
It’s a political wonder that the battle for drain commissioner in Macomb County has turned into one of Michigan’s most watched races. Few people can describe exactly what a drain commissioner does, though the post has received more scrutiny since the Flint water crisis exploded last year.
The race has bubbled to the top because congresswoman and former Michigan Secretary of State Candice Miller is challenging Anthony Marrocco, who has held the post for the past 24 years. Also, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, a Democrat, crossed party lines and endorsed Miller (R-Harrison Township) over Marrocco. Miller, who has served in Congress for 14 years, brings a campaign war chest of more than a half-million dollars while Marrocco has raised more than $300,000.
Officially, the job is called public works commissioner, a position that oversees the county’s water and sewerage operations, including sewer overflows, drains, pumps, retention basins, soil erosion and is involved in approving development projects.
“Clean water means healthy families. When Macomb’s water was at risk by sewer overflows and underfunding, Anthony Marrocco invested millions to stop pollution. Marrocco’s protecting our water, protecting Macomb families. But out-of-state billionaire Koch brothers jeopardize our drinking water, dumped oil waste on our waterfront. They gave millions to politicians like Candice Miller. And Miller votes their way. Voting to allow their dumping."
Statement under review
“When Macomb’s water was at risk by sewer overflows and underfunding, Anthony Marrocco invested millions to stop pollution.”
The ad’s mention of “millions” in investments refers to, among other projects, an $81 million, 10-year pollution abatement program that separated stormwater and sewers in Roseville, Eastpointe and St. Clair Shores to prevent basement flooding. The program was funded by loans through Michigan’s Water Pollution Revolving Fund, also known as the state revolving fund. Also a $30 million program was completed earlier this year to buy and fix the Clintondale pump station, improving sewer reliability in 11 communities.
One problem: The ad says Marrocco invested millions. It may seem like nit-picking because politicians routinely take credit for decisions that involve a cadre of officials or agencies. But it bears noting that county, state and federal funds were invested in these fixes. More to the point, a public works commissioner can advocate for funds and apply for grant funding, but that person cannot approve taxes or bonds. In this case, the $81 million project’s funding was approved by the state. The funding for these projects was approved during his tenure, but he did not “invest” it nor make the ultimate decision for it to happen.
“Out-of-state billionaire Koch brothers jeopardize our drinking water. Dumped oil waste on our waterfront. They gave millions to politicians like Candice Miller. And Miller votes their way. Voting to allow their dumping.”
This is the part of the ad where sunshine and bright production lighting turns bleak, ominous even, as shadowy photos are superimposed of Charles and David Koch, who run nation’s second-largest privately owned company. The brothers and their multinational company, Koch Industries, are often criticized for contributing millions to anti-environmental political campaigns as well as to conservative and libertarian causes that include challenging the science behind climate change.
Closer to home, the Koch brothers were at the center of a controversy surrounding piles of petroleum coke, a black grainy oil refinery byproduct, that was stored along the Detroit River in the city in 2013 by a Koch subsidiary.
Environmental activists, Detroit residents and Canadians across the Detroit River complained about the petcoke, as it is known, fearing its health effects.
However, Marrocco’s ad mischaracterizes the facts, and the danger. While the ad says the Koch brothers pose a threat, petcoke piles along the Detroit River have been long removed, and were never in Macomb, anyway. The Koch company bought the waste product from a refinery operated by Marathon Petroleum Co., and had it piled near the Detroit waterfront en route to exporting it out of the country. Residents complained of blowing dust and said they also feared runoff into river water.
The Environmental Protection Agency noted at the time that significant quantities of dust from petcoke storage and handling operations can present a health risk. However, the piles along the Detroit River were not significant enough to pose a risk of “inhalation exposure,” according to later testing by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality in 2013. MDEQ also found that “the potential exposure of humans to chemicals in petroleum coke in surface waters is minimal,” adding that “very large amounts” would have to be dumped into the water daily to compromise the Detroit River. In short, the piles were found not to be a threat to Detroit’s water, much less to residents a county away in Macomb.
Then-Detroit Mayor Dave Bing ordered the companies to get the stuff out of Detroit in August 2013. Today, there are no petcoke or coke breeze yards in Detroit.
Despite petcoke’s removal, the ad says the Koch brothers “jeopardize” Macomb’s water, leading one to think that the oil refinery byproduct is not only a threat, but still piled three-stories high on the banks of the Detroit River. Neither is true.
“They gave millions to politicians like Candice Miller. And Miller votes their way. Voting to allow their dumping.”
When the ad talks of the Koch brothers giving millions to politicians, it shows a photo of Candice Miller with Gov. Rick Snyder, whose popularity in the state has plummeted over his administration’s handling of the Flint debacle. The language could be interpreted by some viewers as suggesting the Koch brothers gave Miller alone millions of dollars. For good measure, the ad shows dark yellow liquid in a water bottle that bears the face of Miller on the label, a not-so-subtle effort to connect Miller to the problems of Flint.
Miller has accepted four donations from Koch Industries totaling $6,500 since she has been in Congress, records show. The Marrocco campaign cites an environmental activist group that says Miller voted against an amendment asking Congress to agree with EPA findings that climate change is occurring.
That same year, Miller voted for a resolution that would bar the EPA from regulating fossil fuel combustion waste such as petcoke as a hazardous waste. That vote, Marrocco’s campaign argues, was tantamount to a vote allowing petcoke dumping.
The Koch brothers invite plenty of questions about the environmental bona fides of the politicians they fund. So hitting Miller on her congressional voting record is certainly fair game, particularly for a candidate who holds herself out as an environmental steward of Macomb’s waters.
The ad contends Candice Miller voted to approve Koch company dumping, and could be interpreted as suggesting she specifically approved dumping petcoke along Detroit’s riverfront. Marrocco’s campaign cites Miller’s vote opposing the ability of the EPA to regulate petcoke and other waste as an endorsement of Koch’s petcoke practices.
Certainly, there are legitimate environmental concerns about the handling and storage of petcoke. Where this ad goes south, however, is in mischaracterizing the scary piles of petcoke on Detroit’s riverfront. It misleads and attempts to terrify voters by suggesting the piles are a threat to Macomb’s shoreline, when in fact the available evidence shows the piles posed no threat to Macomb residents when they were there and, by the way, are long gone. Miller must answer for her environmental votes; but not for a threat that has long since vanished. Foul.