MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The U.S. Department of Agriculture says it has removed a “major obstacle” to mineral leasing – like copper-nickel mining — in an area near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota.

According to the USDA, it’s reversed an Obama-era decision to block mining on 200,000-plus acres in the watershed in the Superior National Forest.

After a 15-month review of the issue and listening to thousands of citizens, the USDA says it cancelled the application for the Rainy River Watershed Withdrawal.

The analysis did not reveal new scientific information, according to the USDA.

“It’s our duty as responsible stewards of our environment to maintain and protect our natural resources. At the same time, we must put our national forests to work for the taxpayers to support local economies and create jobs,” U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said. “We can do these two things at once: protect the integrity of the watershed and contribute to economic growth and stronger communities.”

The USDA says interested companies can now seek to lease minerals in the watershed.

Save the Boundary Waters quickly denounced the decision, saying the Trump administration has given into foreign mining interests, and ignored science and facts.

“The Trump Administration broke it’s word to us, to Congress, and to the American people when it said it would finish the environmental assessment and base decisions on facts and science,” said Alex Falconer, Executive Director of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. “This is nothing less than a giveaway by the administration to a foreign mining conglomerate whose owner just happens to be Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner’s landlord. It’s clear whose interest this Administration is really serving, and it’s not that of the American people.”

Sportsmen For the Boundary Waters also came out against the decision.

The decision opens a path for Twin Metals Minnesota, which is hoping to build a copper-nickel mine near Ely.

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