July 30, 2013

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The Iron Range: Rich in metals and the mettle to supply them

Its certainly exciting that the Iron Range is home to one of the worlds richest untapped deposits of essential strategic and precious metals.

But, to PolyMet Mining, theres another important asset up here in this beautiful country people who know mining.

You understand the importance of these metals to our everyday lives and the responsibility that goes with mining them. You live, work, play and raise families in these communities and beautiful environment.

And, you have the skills, businesses, training programs, much of the infrastructure and mettle (spirit and resiliency) that will play a vital role in PolyMet’s success.

Who better to mine these metals?

PolyMet has been working with government agencies for several years on a plan to open a modern, safe copper-nickel-precious-metals mine in an established mining district near Hoyt Lakes.

Our supplemental draft Environmental Impact Statement which details the project, its environmental impacts and mitigation methods, and how we plan to meet Minnesota’s strict standards is expected to be released later this summer for public comment.

Based on this document, federal and state regulatory agencies will have the final say before permits are issued. But your voice, particularly during the upcoming public review of our plan, is important and probably the most informed and influential.

That’s because mining has been a critical part of the Iron Range for more than 100 years. And, based on estimates of the size of the deposit, the Duluth Complex could support several new generations of mining in northeastern Minnesota.

Here’s more about our proposal and what it means to the region:

We plan to put the iconic asset of the Erie Plant back to work, which, until 2001, was a robust taconite processing facility. We will immediately address some of the legacy environmental issues facing the site and, ultimately, leave it in better shape than it is now through additional remediation and reclamation.

We’ll be mining copper, nickel, palladium, platinum, gold and cobalt in an open-pit mine six miles east of the plant and using energy-efficient locomotives on an existing rail line to transport the ores for processing at the plant.

By mining more than one metal, well not only be expanding the Iron Range’s economy, but also diversifying it so that its not tied to the ups and downs of the iron ore market. These metals are essential for everyday living.

Copper for electrical wiring is in everything from your cell phone and hybrid car to transmission lines that carry renewable energy to wind and solar farms. Nickel is used for rechargeable batteries and specialty steels that don’t corrode. And the platinum group metals are used in catalytic converters to reduce smog in our cities.

The Iron Range’s skilled and experienced workforce not to mention its hard work ethic will play a major role in bringing these resources to market. (Thanks, in part, to the Northeast Higher Education District for developing programs that teach the skills that industries like ours need to compete in the 21st century.)

Our plans for revamping the Erie Plant and constructing new facilities estimate that it will take more than 2 million construction hours from start to finish roughly the same amount needed to build Target Field in Minneapolis.

Once were ready begin mining and processing, well hire as many as 360 people to fill stable, good-paying jobs. In addition, the University of Minnesota Duluth estimates that indirect opportunities could generate nearly twice that number of jobs in St. Louis County alone.

Economically, our operations will provide St. Louis County’s economy with a $500 million boost each year or $10 billion over the 20-year life of the proposed project, according to a study by UMD.

But, as jaw-dropping as these numbers are, we certainly don’t want all of this economic promise to overshadow the environment. As part of state regulations, before we even begin mining, we will set aside funding that is legally protected to ensure that the site will be properly closed, monitored and maintained.

Our entire organization is committed to doing things right. I am an environmental engineer. I grew up in Montana and I have spent nearly 25 years working in the mining industry, much of that time focused on how to develop mines in ways that protect the environment. Many of our employees are third- and even fourth-generation Iron Rangers who are committed to the environment, as well as jobs.

Our plans include a water collection and treatment facility that uses reverse osmosis technology to ensure that we not only meet best practices, but also Minnesota’s stringent regulations designed to protect streams where wild rice grows.

As much as some people tell you that you have to make a choice between mining and protecting the environment, we know you can do both and we look forward to the opportunity to prove it.

Thanks for supporting us. Thanks for hanging in there through the lengthy permitting process. And, thanks for your support of mining and understanding where the world would be without it.

Jon Cherry is the President and Chief Executive Officer of PolyMet Mining.

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