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Our View: CEO says PolyMet will mine 'safely,' 'appropriately'

Chuck Frederick / -- Dennis Szymialis of Duluth pickets Tuesday outside Duluth's Kitchi Gammi Club where PolyMet CEO Jon Cherry was the keynote speaker during a luncheon sponsored by the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce.

With a police presence in the area, a single protester held a sign outside Duluth's Kitchi Gammi Club over the noon hour Tuesday.

Inside, PolyMet CEO Jon Cherry, while addressing business leaders at a Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce-sponsored luncheon, didn't acknowledge the picket. But he did offer assurances to anyone concerned about Minnesota's likely first copper-nickel mine that it will help to meet the growing global demand for precious metals and that it will operate responsibly and without harming the St. Louis River, its watershed, Lake Superior, or any parts of the environment.

"There's a responsibility no matter where you mine to do it correctly and appropriately and to protect the environment," Cherry said. "I am 100 percent confident we'll be protective of the St. Louis River watershed and Lake Superior and downstream. I think you could actually take our design and put it anywhere and be just as protective of the environment."

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources agreed that PolyMet can mine safely. In March 2016, it signed off on PolyMet's plans. Its landmark determination followed an exhaustive environmental-review process that spanned 10 long years and included ordered changes and improvements to the project.

Transitioning now from environmental review to how the mine near Babbitt and the processing plant near Hoyt Lakes will be built and will operate, three of nearly two dozen necessary permits already are in hand, Cherry said.

"It's been a long haul. We truly are on the doorstep now," he said. "We answered all the questions, checked all the boxes, and we're moving forward."

That's good news for all of us who use metals-filled cell phones and other devices in our everyday lives, who support renewable wind and solar energy, and who like it that the production of fuel-efficient electric cars is on the rise. We can be further encouraged if we're concerned that much of the metals from around the globe are being mined now with little to no environmental regulation or concern for workers' safety.

Cell phones have 100 different metals in them.

"It has to come from somewhere," Cherry said.

Additionally, every wind turbine requires 11,000 pounds of copper. Solar panels are similarly copper-intensive. And the motors in electric cars have more than four times the copper as traditional car engines, he said.

An estimated $60 billion of copper mining is being developed to meet the growing demand; PolyMet is the only proposed mine in the U.S. as far along in its development as the permitting phase.

"Our employees at PolyMet, they live here, they work here, they raise their families here, they want to recreate here. Who has a more vested interest in making sure this is done correctly?" Cherry asked. "There's demand for all this metal. We have a chance to develop it responsibly here. I don't think there's anyone in here who doesn't want clean air, who doesn't want clean water."

There wasn't anyone outside the Kitch over the noon hour on Tuesday who didn't also want those things.