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Doheny more green on ballast regs than Owens

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When it comes to invasive species, self-described conservative Republican Matthew A. Doheny is staking out a much greener position than his Nov. 6 opponent, Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh.

“The shipping industry is going to promote its own interest,” Mr. Doheny said of the debate over ballast regulations. “My interest is in the person who’s running the bed and breakfast in Clayton, to make that they continue, and that the environment is beautiful. I’m not too worried about the shipping companies.”

Ballast regulations are a point of contention between environmental groups like Clayton-based Save the River and the shipping industry. Ships must take in ballast water for balance while they’re at sea. But dangers lurk in those ballast waters — namely, plants and fish that aren’t native to the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario ecosystem. The exotic species, from Asian carp to the zebra mussel, can ravage the environment to which they’re introduced. According to Save the River, 65 percent of invasive species is due to ballast water releases.

Invasive species threaten the tourism and recreational boating industry, which makes up an important part of the north country economy.

To address that growing problem, the Coast Guard put together regulations that require ships to treat the ballast water before it is discharged.

But environmental groups like Save the River said that the regulations weren’t strong enough, calling them the “bare minimum” that would allow too many living organisms to flow into Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. The group was also concerned that only new ships, for now, would have to have the new technology.

Mr. Doheny said that he shared Save the River’s concerns about the Coast Guard regulations, which went into effect earlier this year. The state proposed, then backed off of, much stricter ballast standards earlier this year. Save the River has clamored for stricter regulations.

“I will be leading the charge in Congress to make sure that happens,” said Mr. Doheny, who noted several times that he is an Alexandria Bay native.“In terms of what the exact policy proposal is, certainly, I will be focused on that. I have nothing but the highest regard, and I help Save the River when I can.”

But Mr. Owens said that he supported the Coast Guard regulations for now, arguing that they present a “reasonable” balance. He agrees with the shipping industry when it says that the technology doesn’t exist to follow the stricter standards that New York state proposed.

Port officials in Ogdensburg and Oswego, Mr. Owens said, “view economic development as greatly impacted by the capacity to move goods on the St. Lawrence River. We know that Alcoa moves goods by ship. So I think I would be very, very reluctant to ignore the concerns of an employer the size of Alcoa in our community.”

The two do agree on several other tourism points. Mr. Doheny, as part of a tour of 50 businesses in 50 days, released a “prescription pad” to help the tourism industry. Mr. Owens said he agreed with many of the points, and has long advocated for some of them. He did signal concern about Mr. Doheny’s position on the gasoline tax. Mr. Doheny said he would pressure state lawmakers to lower it, which, he said, would make people more likely to go on vacations.

“Certainly, the idea of having a lower set of gas taxes is always appealing,” Mr. Owens said. “ What you have to be very careful of is that we don’t reduce the monies available for road and bridge construction and maintenance.”

Mr. Owens said he recently concluded that the minimum wage shouldn’t be increased. It currently stands at $7.25 an hour. U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., support raising the minimum wage to $9.80 an hour.

“At least in the current economy, I’m opposed to increasing the minimum wage,” Mr. Owens said.“I think that there’s some legitimacy to the argument that that could have a negative impact on small businesses.”

Mr. Owens and Mr. Doheny also agree that:

n The Keystone XL pipeline from the Alberta tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico should be approved. Doing so would lower gasoline prices, both have argued.

n A $5.50 “inspection fee” for plane or boat travelers coming to the United States is a bad idea. The fee, proposed in President Obama’s budget, could have hit some boat passengers coming to the Thousand Islands region, both have argued.

n Expanding cellular and Internet coverage in the north country is a good idea. Many parts of the Adirondacks lack high-speed Internet or cellular telephone coverage.

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