Chile´s Antofagasta to push ahead with plans for Minnesota mine

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chile´s Antofagasta Plc will push ahead with permitting for a copper-nickel mine in the U.S. state of Minnesota after the Trump administration overturned an Obama-era decision to protect a nearby wilderness area, it said on Saturday.

The U.S. Department of Interior had refused to renew mineral leases owned by Antofagasta subsidiary Twin Metals in Minnesota, citing potential environmental damage to nearby protected areas, but on Friday it reversed course.

“The decision by the government of the United States allows us to continue with the design and process of obtaining environmental permits ... needed to have (the project) in operation in the next decade,” Antofagasta Chief Executive Ivan Arriagada said in a statement on Saturday.

U.S. President Donald Trump has vowed to sweep away regulations he says cost America trillions of dollars with no public benefit. Recent efforts include clearing hurdles for off-shore oil and gas drilling in Alaska and dismantling Obama-era climate change regulations.

On Thursday, U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke launched an initiative to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign supplies of critical minerals, calling for increased domestic exploration and mining.

Twin Metal´s proposed underground mine would border the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Superior National Forest, but still needs dozens of environmental permits before it can be constructed, according to the company´s website.

The company says it hopes to produce 20,000 tons of mineralized ore per day in order to extract “metals of strategic importance to the U.S. economy and national defense.”

In October, Arriagada told Reuters that the Trump administration had created a “more favorable climate for the development of the project.”

Antofagasta is based in Chile and is one of the world´s top copper producers.

Reporting by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Susan Thomas