Minnesota firms sue over Trump administration mine leases near wilderness

June 21 (Reuters) – Minnesota outdoor recreation firms have sued the federal government over its decision to reinstate leases for a mine next to a state wilderness as part of the Trump administration's drive to allow mining in some of the country's wildest areas.

The Interior Department's May 2 decision was unlawful and posed an immediate threat to the environment and the areas' outdoor-recreation economy, according to the lawsuit filed in federal court in the District of Columbia on Thursday.

Plaintiffs included outdoor equipment stores, a resort and Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness, a group created to protect the area known as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA).

Last month, the Interior Department reinstated Twin Metals' two expired mineral leases for copper and nickel at the edge of the BWCA after the Obama administration declined to renew them. The proposed mine site is upstream from the popular wilderness area in the Superior National Forest.

Twin Metals, a subsidiary of Chilean copper mining company Antofagasta Plc, said in a statement it saw no basis for a court to block reinstatement of the leases and that it would take steps to defend the government's actions.

The Department of the Interior referred questions on the lawsuit to the Department of Justice. The Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

As part of its Energy Dominance agenda, the Trump administration has taken several actions to undo restrictions on fossil fuel development on federally owned land and promote more production in some of the country’s remotest spaces.

At a campaign-style rally and a separate roundtable discussion in Duluth, Minnesota, on Wednesday, Trump vowed to boost the state’s mining industry and said he would open up more mining in the Superior National Forest. "You know about it from the mining industries, and all of the different work you’ve had stopped, and it now is going forward. So much work is going forward in Minnesota and in so many other states," he said.

(Reporting by Karen Pierog, Valerie Volcovici and Andrew Hay; Editing by Matthew Lewis)