Robin Hayes, chairman of North Carolina's Republican Party, painted a target last month on Alaska's proposed Pebble Mine. In an open letter, he endorsed the Environmental Protection Agency's use of an unprecedented regulatory gimmick to veto the mine in advance, even before its plans are complete -- ostensibly to protect Bristol Bay salmon runs and fishermen.
That gush of Big Green rhetoric coming from Hayes is odd. During his five terms in Congress, he had racked up a League of Conservation Voters lifetime green voting score of only 11 percent.
His letter sent chills through the state's Republican leaders and outraged major state donors. It also infuriated his Republican National Committee colleague in Alaska, state Chairman Randy Ruedrich.
"What was he thinking?" an angry Ruedrich asked rhetorically. "A respected leader from North Carolina urges the Obama administration to deny Alaska its regulatory authority. The mine site is on Alaska state land, not federal land. Mr. Hayes has betrayed Alaska's sovereignty."
Ruedrich spoke in a firm, controlled voice. "Mr. Hayes has imposed his viewpoint on a trusting public, saying that federal regulations should be used to destroy our state's depressed economy, to wipe out our expectation of thousands of high-paying year-round jobs, and to condemn young Native Alaskans to a low-wage seasonal piece-work future. ... Mr. Hayes' interference in this high-profile Alaska issue does not benefit the Republican Party or the state of Alaska. It only serves to advocate for federal intrusion outside of long-recognized permit methods and to deny the ability of Alaskans to consider for themselves the potential benefits of a project like Pebble."
Ruedrich continued: "Personally, I'd like for Mr. Hayes to consult with his North Carolina party leaders before using his title as a party official to work in direct opposition to the Alaska Republican Party platform and planks."
Many others feel the same way. Emails quietly flew among party leaders and activists across the nation who saw the real problem: The EPA was using a disputed clause in Section 404 (c) of the Clean Water Act to conduct a "watershed assessment," whose purpose is to justify the killing of the mine project before anyone even applies for its first dredge-and-fill permit.
This would not just affect one mine in Alaska. It would also create a new and unlimited power for the EPA. If it can kill the Pebble Mine this way, it can kill any type of development in advance, and kill it anywhere. For businesses potentially facing the same treatment from the EPA in the future, this was a line-in-the-sand conflict.
So what is Hayes up to? It might have something to do with his favorite Bristol Bay fishing hole.
The Hill tacked a short profile of Hayes to his letter, saying, "He is a frequent visitor to Alaska's Bristol Bay, where he stays at Brian Kraft's Alaska Sportsman's Lodges."
The reference is to two luxury lodges, where the tab for one week is $8,675, or more than the per capita annual income in nearby Nondalton ($8,411), where 37 percent of families are below the poverty line. The lodge prices don't faze Hayes, who owns a hosiery mill in North Carolina. His grandfather was textile magnate Charles Cannon of Cannon towels and sheets fame.
Kraft has been fighting to preserve his lodges' privacy by stopping the Pebble Mine, whose site is about 65 miles from his nearest lodge. Kraft founded and funded the Bristol Bay Alliance in 2004 for this purpose. He also became a project director for Trout Unlimited's Alaska chapter in 2005. And David E. Sandlin, half-owner of the lodges with Kraft, is an old schoolmate of Hayes at North Carolina's Duke University -- they were two years apart.
If Obama's EPA kills Pebble this way, it will have grabbed the power to kill any American business. And it will have done so with Hayes' assistance.
Examiner Columnist Ron Arnold is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.