I had the good fortune yesterday to welcome a group of 10 Ukrainian members of parliament to my humble little borough of Carnegie. They are visiting the U.S. to learn about Marcellus shale. Marcellus shale is an unpopular subject with environmentalists in western PA, but it has sparked economic growth here. To Ukrainians Marcellus represents an opportunity to get out from under the thumb of the Russians. Ukraine gets its natural gas from Russia. You will recall that not long ago, there was a dispute between Ukraine and Russia, and Russia subsequently shut off the supply of natural gas to Ukraine for two full weeks. Needless to say, the impact was severe on a country which still is considered poor by European standards.
I spoke with Sergey Yermilov, member of parliament from Kiev. He is also a member of the Institute for Environment and Energy Conservation. He believes that if they can safely adopt the technology of Marcellus natural gas drilling, his country would be able to gain some energy independence from Russia. This must also be combined with conservation and efficient use of existing energy supplies. I also had a few moments to discuss parliamentary politics in Ukraine. (no, we did not discuss the fistfights which seem to break out on a regular basis in Ukrainian parliament). I asked him about the structure of their parliament and their focus at the moment. He said that they have about 450 members of parliament and that about half of them are elected at large from independent parties. The other half of parliament is made up of the Party of Regions and consists of delegates from local districts across the country. They held parliamentary elections last October and are preparing to select a president. He said this is a very important process because he says there is an imbalance of power between the president and the prime minister and the imbalance favors the president. He believes that puts Ukraine closer to the Russian model, and he would prefer more balance.
During the socializing that followed our formal conversations, a fellow walked over to me and introduced himself as Vin Weber. What a surprise! I had worked and lived in Minneapolis for a number of years and knew Vin Weber as a Republican congressman but had never met him. I was more familiar with his colleague, Congressman Jim Oberstar, who was chair of the House Aviation Subcommittee. As a union president at the time, I had travelled to Washington to lobby Oberstar on a cooperative agreement between the Dutch Airline KLM and our own Minnesota airline Northwest. But I digress. Vin Weber’s foreign policy positions closely aligned with some SDUSA members, although much of his domestic policies obviously did not. Nonetheless, while he continues to be active in the Republican Party, he considers himself a “small d” democrat. Well, it was enough of a surprise to meet Minnesota Congressman Vin Weber in my small Pennsylvania town. But after talking with him briefly, and mentioning I am Chair of SDUSA, he informed me that he is a board member of NED. Unbelievable. I think most of you know that NED is an outgrowth of SDUSA activity way back in the early 80s, and that is too long of a story to recount here. Former SDUSA director Carl Gershman has been president of NED since its inception in 1984. Anyway, I will be talking more with Vin and I’ll update you with any noteworthy news.