“A conflict of interest occurs when an individual or organization is involved in multiple interests, one of which could possibly corrupt the motivation for an act in the other.”
“The presence of a conflict of interest is independent from the execution of impropriety. Someone accused of a conflict of interest may deny that a conflict exists because he/she did not act improperly. In fact, a conflict of interest can exist even if there are no improper acts as a result of it.” – Wikipedia definition
California has long been a battleground between the interests of salmon in the North, and the competing agriculture and development interests in the South. Both need, and are fighting over water. Without water, the salmon will die in the north, and without water, huge agribusiness will dry up in the south. With the pressures of human populations, there simply isn’t enough water to go around.
In the administrations of both President Bush and Governor Schwartzenegger, big water users have taken taken precedence over Native American Tribes, fishers, salmon restoration workers, and the salmon themselves. In just the past two weeks, thousands of Chinook salmon and millions of Sacramento splittail have been killed at the huge pumping stations of the Sacramento Delta. Million of gallons of water are being pumped south, with electricity generated at reservoir dams for Central Valley agribusiness and south state users.
At a time when salmon populations are in collapse, one might think that an official with a long history of representing big agriculture interests in the Central Valley would be disqualified from heading an organization seeking to close off huge areas of ocean to North Coast fishermen and residents. With the Marine Life Protection Act “Initiative,” that was not the case.
Ken Wiseman, the Executive Director of the MLPAI has some stark conflicts of interest in this battle for water, and the survival of species and cultures. For much of his life he has represented the interests of giant farms that grow huge quatities of food with irrigation water from Northern California rivers.
Mr. Wiseman managed Central Valley agribusiness farming early in his career. From 1997 to 2000 he was a board member and Vice President of the California Independent System Operator (CAISO). His role at CAISO is decribed as “a consumer representative for agriculture and water electricity end-users.” (see: Biography).
CAISO oversees the management of California’s power grid. Much of the electricity comes from natural gas, and some from hydroelectric dams. By 2004, Mr. Wiseman was Chaiman of the Board at CAISO.
He was also a long-time executive for the agriculture and food processing industries in Kern County. Up until recently he has been an “environmental mediator” for RMC Engineering, “a California-based environmental engineering company focused exclusively on water.”
Northern California rivers for decades supported some of the last healthy populations of Coho and Chinook salmon in the West. Now some are saying California agribusiness would just as soon see the salmon disappear altogether, so that there are no further impediments to the export of water south.
There are also significant natural gas deposits in North Coast ocean waters adjacent to areas recently slated for closure to fishing and food gathering. CAISO gets large percentages of their generating capacity from natural gas.
For a conflict of interest to be plain, no conspiracy theory is needed. The simple existence of a conflict is proof enough to disqualify an individual or organization from ethically taking part in public policy work for which they have competing interests.
With the MLPAI, it’s Executive Director is only one of several who can be said to have interests severely conflicted by the Marine Life Protection Act “Initiative.”
With the lines drawn and the ocean about to be parceled out, there are some waiting in the wings to reap the benefits. This privately funded partnership has created public policy with absolutely no governmental oversight. Conflicts of interest are apparent, and the possibilities for corruption are undeniable.
More on COI’s and the MLPAI “Initiative” in upcoming posts.