Environmental panel will focus on invasive species

The group that recommends environmental projects funded with lottery money will emphasize aquatic invasive species during its next grant round.

The Legislative Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resource agreed to make a special request for proposals to fight Asian carp.

The group's chair, Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, endorsed the plan.

"We've been talking about this for at least the last ten years that I know of, and we've not taken any action," Hackbarth said. "We have to get going on something."

The Commission has funded dozens of projects on invasive species over the years, including those with emphasis on Emerald Ash Borer and ballast water. But last year the Republican-controlled legislature dropped some projects recommended by the LCCMR to fund work on zebra mussels.

The LCCMR is tentatively stepping out of a painful controversy over control of the group.

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Last December, the Legislative Coordinating Committee fired LCCMR Director Susan Thornton. She hired an attorney. Citizen members of the Commission objected to her firing. Days later, she was notified that her firing had been "suspended." Since then, the LCC has declined to explain the action, although some legislators have said they want to take the group in a new direction.

At Friday's LCCMR executive committee meeting, Hackbarth was unable to kill a motion to send a strongly worded letter to the LCC, protesting its "inappropriate interference" and asking for assurance of the LCCMR's autonomy. Hackbarth said it was time to put the controversy to rest and move on.

Sen. Linda Higgins, DFL-Minneapolis, may have been trying to soothe the wounds when she offered the resolution to emphasize aquatic invasive species work.

"I want us to be a partner, to say we want to step up to the table, we want the legislature to know that we're serious about this as well," Higgins said. "That we could put significant money toward it, and we can all work together rather than be at loggerheads."

Money for new projects will not be available until July 2013.