TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality on Friday approved permits allowing Kennecott Minerals Co. to operate a nickel and copper mine in the Upper Peninsula.

The mine, which Kennecott calls Eagle Project, would target a 6-acre underground deposit expected to yield 250 million to 300 million pounds of nickel and about 200 million pounds of copper.

The environmental agency approved three permits for Kennecott — one to build and operate the mine and the others for air and groundwater discharges.

Before constructing the mine, Kennecott also needs approval from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources for its plans for surface activities and restoring the site after the mine is closed. The company wants to lease 120 acres for its surface facilities. The agency is expected to announce its decision on those matters Jan. 10.

Opponents fear the Marquette County mine would generate sulfuric acid that would leach into ground and surface waters. It would be located near the headwaters of the Salmon Trout River, a Lake Superior tributary in the Yellow Dog Plains region.

The company repeatedly has said it would protect the environment.

Utah-based Kennecott, a subsidiary of the London-based mining conglomerate Rio Tinto PLC, says the mine would provide more than 100 full-time jobs and boost the local economy.

The Kennecott project is the first proposed since Michigan adopted a nonferrous mining law in 2004 and a package of regulations in 2006, prompted by concerns about ecological damage from mining metallic sulfide ores.