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Sen. Gary Peters joins us for an in-studio chat

Jul 20, 2015

Sen. Gary Peters and Cynthia Canty in the Stateside stdio
Credit Amber Moon

Sen. Gary Peters, D-MI, has often reached out through the phone line to talk with us here on Stateside, but today he joined us in-studio to discuss petroleum coke, the Iran nuclear deal, the Export-Import Bank of the United States, and life as the only Democratic freshman in the U.S. Senate.

Peters on the petroleum coke piles in Detroit

Peters and Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois are co-sponsoring a bill that would require a study on the effects of petroleum coke and a deeper look into how best to deal with it.

There have been reports of clouds of pet coke getting into the Great Lakes and floating over the Detroit River and into neighborhoods, raising questions about its safety.

The EPA has said that pet coke has low toxicity and that it isn’t a carcinogen, but Peters tells us that’s not the end of the story.

“It’s still a particulate matter,” he says. “It’s having an impact on your body, and I think the EPA is starting to realize that particulate matter in peoples’ lungs is never a good thing.”

Peters points to states on the east coast that require deposits of pet coke be completely covered.

“If it’s good enough for other states who believe that it’s important, why not have a national standard to make sure everybody is protected regardless of what state they may happen to live in?” he says.

The bill is looking to require study and analysis of the effects of pet coke rather than immediate action, which Peters hopes will be less controversial and more likely to pass the Senate.

Peters on Iran

The proposed nuclear deal with Iran has been cause of much controversy since its introduction, drawing criticism from both Democrats and Republicans.

Peters tells us that at this point there are still so many things about the deal that he and his colleagues don’t yet know and hope to learn moving forward.

“We certainly cannot allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon. It’s destabilizing for the Middle East, destabilizing for the world, and we have to have a strong agreement to do that,” he says. “But I have questions, ... and I’m going take my time to do it right because it’s going to be one of the most important votes that I will probably ever have to make.”

Peters on the Export-Import Bank

Congress let the Export-Import Bank of the United States’ charter expire earlier this month after 80 years of operation, a decision that Peters disagrees with.

He tells us that the Export-Import Bank creates tons of jobs, reduces the national debt, doesn’t cost taxpayers a penny, and helps facilitate smooth business interactions with other nations.

“It has had a proven record of doing that for decades,” he says.

He fears that the lack of an Export-Import Bank in the U.S. will put American companies at a competitive disadvantage to companies around the world.

Peters believes that “the votes are there” to revisit the decision, but the real hurdle is actually getting it on the floor.

Peters on being the only freshman Democrat in the Senate

Peters was the focus of a recent piece in the Huffington Post that looked at what life is like for him being the only Democrat in the freshman class of 13.

Since taking his position as the “President of the Democratic Freshman Class of One,” he has made it a priority to work with his colleagues across party lines.

Colorado Senator Cory Gardner is quoted in the piece saying, “We talk to him, we include him. He’s not picked last on the Senate basketball team.”

Peters is very up front about how important it is to build bridges between Democrats and Republicans so that they can more easily work together to solve problems.

“I don’t look at this job as ideology. I look at it as, 'I’ve got a problem, how do we fix it? How do we make it work?'” he says. “And it’s about moving beyond partisanship and just trying to find what we have in common. And when you get to know people on a personal level, you find there’s a lot that we have in common. Let’s get things done, that’s what the American people want us to do.”

Listen to our full conversation with Sen. Gary Peters above.

- Ryan Grimes, Stateside Staff