Analysis by Cornell Researchers: 98% of DEC Public Comments Opposed to Greenidge Permit Renewal
Advocates urge Governor Hochul and DEC to respond to overwhelming public opposition by immediately rejecting Greenidge's air permit renewal and placing moratorium on cryptomining across NYS
ALBANY, NY (04/25/2022) (readMedia)-- Today, researchers from Cornell University presented their analysis of 3,919 files containing public comments sent to the Department of Environmental Conservation regarding Greenidge Generation's air permit renewal. After FOILing for the comments, researchers used text analysis to find that at least 98% of the public comments are opposed to Greenidge, a peaker plant converted to a 24/7 Bitcoin mine by the Connecticut-based private equity firm that owns it.
The DEC has consistently cited the need to sift through comments as part of the reason for the now five month delay in making a decision. The new deadline is June 30th, two days after the gubernatorial primary.
"In response to our March 15th FOIL request for all public comments and any other documents related directly to Greenidge, on March 16th, DEC sent a thumb drive containing 3,919 files. Based on our analysis, we found that a total of 98.8%, or 3,872, of the files provided by DEC express opposition to Greenidge. 0.96%, or 38, express support of Greenidge. 0.22%, or 9, are not easily categorized one way or the other," said Owen Marshall, Postdoctoral Researcher, Science & Technology Studies and Information Science, Cornell University, and Marina Zafiris, Ph.D. student, Information Science, Cornell University.
After receiving the files, using machine text analysis of the file names, researchers found that 3583 (91.8%) of the 3,902 pdf files (other files were doc or docx and not readable via the program used) provide express opposition to Greenidge's permit renewal. Researchers then manually searched, read, and sorted through the contents of the remaining files.
This map displays the geographic origins of the public comments. A pie chart is attached, and can be used with credit to Marina Zafiris and Owen Marshall.
"It's no surprise that 98% of the public comments made to the DEC are opposed to Greenidge, because repowering or expanding coal and gas plants to make fake money in the middle of a climate crisis is literally insane," said Yvonne Taylor, Vice President of Seneca Lake Guardian. "In the Finger Lakes and across the state, outside speculators are invading our communities to destroy our natural resources, kneecap local businesses, and keep us from meeting the crucial climate goals outlined by the CLCPA. Governor Hochul and DEC's responsibility is to New Yorkers, not the Connecticut-based private equity firm that's only goal is to make a few people very, very rich. The state must deny Greenidge's air permit renewal, and Governor Hochul must impose a moratorium and protect New Yorkers from climate-killing cryptomining."
"Nearly 4,000 New Yorkers took time and energy to voice their opinion as part of the democratic process. It's now up to the DEC to honor that effort in a timely manner, not use it as an excuse to delay decision making. What kind of message does that send to the public about the value of their participation? If student researchers at Cornell can use widely available technology to provide a significant analysis in a few hours, the highly skilled experts at the DEC have no excuse. Government can move quickly when it wants to. The DEC and Governor Hochul owe it to New Yorkers' overwhelming public opposition against Greenidge to deny its permits," said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY.
"Government can move expeditiously and this decision is one of those moments when we need the DEC to lead and take swift action on this critical climate issue. Thanks to the work of two Cornell researchers, we now know that 98% of the public comments are opposed to Greenidge's application, substantial evidence of public sentiment regarding the impact of owning and running a fossil-fuel based power plant on the shore of Seneca Lake almost exclusively for company profits while using significant natural resources. Our state law dictates that we must reach an 85% reduction in our GHG emissions by 2050. This will require that we retire power plants that use fossil fuels as an energy source not enable retired power plants to be brought back on line for private gain," said Assembly Member Anna Kelles.
Sample public comments submitted to the DEC:
"Being a young person I am quite knowledgeable about Bitcoin and other crypto currencies. I think the best analogy that I could explain for those who are not steeped in youth culture. Bitcoin is about as good an investment as beanie babies...
Please do not ruin our lake for short term profits. Look at the fires out west, where is the future of agriculture? It's in the finger lakes. We need to value this fresh water."
-Geneva, NY resident and business owner
"I represent a 6th generation family farm located in Hector New York on the shores of beautiful Seneca Lake. We are urging Governor Hochul to direct the DEC to deny Greenidge's Title V Air Permit. We believe this facility works against the clean energy initiatives that NYS has been striving for.
We ask that extensive studies be conducted by the DEC to determine how this facility will affect our air, water quality, and agriculture (agri-tourism) to protect what we now have to support our future generations.
We have proudly kept our farm sustainable since 1852, and with 3 grandsons making up the 8th generation and the future of our farm, we want to know they will someday have the same opportunities and access to clean air and water. Greenidge is not interested in our local families or economy, only using our resources to line their pockets with bitcoin.
We plead that the DEC and the Governor declare a moratorium and protect the future climate of our region and state."
-Hector, NY resident
"As a resident of Tompkins County and proud union member, I am writing to oppose Greenridge's plan for a proof-of-work bitcoin mining facility.
This project serves only the owner's financial interests and provides no benefits to the finger lakes region - it will only serve to worsen our air quality and produce carbon emissions that we need to be eliminating in order to reduce the risks of climate change.
Please do what you can to stop this facility from continuing to mine bitcoin and contributing to climate change."
-Ithaca, NY resident
"Bitcoin is the currency of choice for criminal activity. We don't want to risk the beauty and health of our region that this facility would bring with fossil fuels emissions, and water effluents. NO to the Greenidge plant."
-Rochester, NY resident
"I am concerned that the power plant, with its new use as a Bitcoin mining operation and its enormous increases in GHG emissions, will adversely impact our environment and directly adversely impacts our agriculture and tourism industries, degrading the pastoral nature of the region and damaging vital environmental resources and our health. Additionally, I am worried that this facility, and others like it, will prevent the state from meeting its critical climate goals established under the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA)...
Most of the energy generated at this power plant is not going to the grid. "Instead, it is being used by a private technology company where the financial rewards remain with the company and its investors, while the environmental impacts of its intensive energy use are externalized, impacting our community, our state, and our ever-warming world."
-Waterloo, NY business owner
More anonymized sample comments are available upon request.
Located on the shores of Seneca Lake, Greenidge is a once-mothballed power plant that has been converted into a bitcoin mine by the private equity firm that owns it. The plant has brought only 48 new jobs to the region compared to the existing $3 billion agritourism economy, employing approximately 60,000 people, while poisoning the Finger Lakes' natural resources. Greenidge operates over 17,000 Bitcoin mining machines and is expanding to over 32,500, pumping dirty fossil fuels into the air 24/7. This will lead to over 1 million tons of CO2 emissions each year, equal to that of 100,000 homes. Greenidge also sucks up to 139 million gallons of water each day from Seneca Lake and dumps it back in at up to 108 degrees. Gregory Boyer, director of SUNY's Great Lakes Research Consortium, has warned about Greenidge's potential to cause harmful algal blooms, which can be dangerous or fatal to humans and other animals in Seneca Lake, and make this water source for 100,000 people non-potable.
Last week, Seneca Lake Guardian, NYPIRG, Food & Water Watch, Sierra Club Atlantic and Finger Lakes chapters, and dozens of local groups sent an open letter to Senators Gillibrand and Schumer urging them to visit the Finger Lakes and meet the residents and business owners whose livelihoods are suffering the environmental and economic consequences of Greenidge. Greenidge Generation is the test case for proof-of-work cryptomining in New York, and advocates warn that a renewal of its air permits would signal to more outside speculators that New York's fossil fuel power plants, closed as we work toward meeting greenhouse gas emissions reductions goals, are available to be bought up and re-opened as gas guzzling Bitcoin mining cancers on communities.
The DEC has already confirmed that Greenidge is a threat to New York's energy goals as outlined in the CLCPA. In a recent story, "DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos told WSKG that he continues to have "significant concerns" whether Greenidge Generation's operations will be compliant with the state's statutory climate goals under the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, or CLCPA." Seggos later said, "Our belief still stands that this is a facility that's going to have an uphill battle complying with the law."
And at a recent Environmental Conservation budget hearing when asked about the potential impact of the escalating cryptocurrency mining activity in upstate NY on the states energy grid, the NYS Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) President Doreen Harris stated, "There could be a very significant impact on NY load resulting from cryptocurrency mining depending on the penetration of the resource."
In its recent report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that global warming is nearing dangerous levels if we don't drastically reduce our dependence on fossil fuels much faster than we are. Meanwhile, after China banned cryptomining, citing the environmental threats the practice poses to meeting emissions reduction goals, outside speculators have flocked to upstate New York to take advantage of the nonexistent environmental regulations. New York State is accommodating 20% of the country's cryptomining industry, a direct threat to communities, local economies, and the climate. Continued cryptomining will make it impossible for New York State to meet the critical zero-emissions climate goals outlined in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.
In addition to fighting against Greenidge's air permit renewal, advocates, scientists, electeds, and more are urging Governor Hochul to put a moratorium on proof-of-work cryptomining.
The Governor is well within her legal authority to act, according to a new white paper from Columbia Law School Sabin Center for Climate Change Law: A Pause on Proof-Of-Work: The New York State Executive Branch's Authority to Enact a Moratorium on the Permitting of Consolidated Proof of Work Cryptocurrency Mining Facilities. The paper (summary of findings available here) draws on precedent established in 2010 when the executive branch signed the fracking moratorium. It finds the Governor has authority to stop new proof-of-work cryptomining operations by enacting a moratorium on the permitting of these facilities until a Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) to determine the full extent of the impacts of mining on communities is complete.
Proof-of-work cryptocurrency mining (which Bitcoin uses) is an extremely energy-intensive process that requires thousands of machines whirring 24/7 to solve complex equations. The more machines that are running, the faster a coin is mined. Each one of these machines requires energy to run, plus more energy to run cooling technology. Globally, proof-of-work Bitcoin mining uses the same amount of energy each year as the entire country of Argentina. It produces 30,700 metric tons of e-waste each year, comparable to the yearly IT equipment waste of the Netherlands. If left unregulated, the industry will wreak irrevocable harm on the entire state of New York, making it impossible to reach New York's crucial climate goals as outlined in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA). The CLCPA commits to an 85% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050 and 100% zero-emission electricity by 2040.
These facilities are also major emitters of methane and toxic air pollutants including benzene, formaldehyde and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are precursors of ground level ozone pollution and known causes of asthma, heart attacks, strokes, reproductive damage and preterm birth.
Powering Bitcoin mining with renewables is not a viable solution, as renewables supply cannot possibly meet the extreme energy demands of Bitcoin mining in addition to daily necessities such as heating and cooling homes and running cars. Any renewable energy that supports Bitcoin mining is renewable energy that is being diverted from the public grid. And when crypto miners rely on the public grid, they stick everyday New Yorkers with the bill. A 2021 study estimates "the power demands of cryptocurrency mining operations in upstate New York push up annual electric bills by about $165 million for small businesses and $79 million for individuals.
Cryptomining is also at odds with the overwhelmingly popular amendment to the state constitution passed last year, which guarantees every New Yorker the right to clean air, clean water, and a healthful environment. Revitalizing old polluting power plants for private financial gain, with drastic consequences for our air, water and climate, all while causing huge amounts of noise pollution, is now unconstitutional - and ought to be treated as such.
Reform groups Common Cause/NY and NYPIRG have specifically criticized the crypto mining industry for exploiting public resources and straining the energy grid for private gain, and a group of federal lawmakers led by Senator Elizabeth Warren recently requested details from six major Bitcoin mining companies about their electricity usage and contributions to climate change. Earlier this month, President Biden issued an executive order requiring federal agencies study the legal, economic, and environmental impacts of cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin mining. Even the Mayor of New York City, Eric Adams, an avid crypto booster has come out against mining, declaring at a February 9th joint session of the Legislature: "I support cryptocurrency, not crypto mining."
More than 1,000 organizations, businesses, environmental activists, concerned residents, wine makers, elected officials, and more have taken action over the last year in opposition to crypto mining in New York State. A letter sent to Governor Hochul in October was signed by more than 650 individuals and groups. In letters to Governor Cuomo last year opposing Greenidge Generation's expansion from an emergency peaker plant to a 24/7 Bitcoin mining operation, organizations, businesses, and Finger Lakes residents demanded Gov. Cuomo revoke Greenidge's permits due to its massive greenhouse gas emissions, poisoning of the Finger Lakes, and noise pollution, with no economic benefit to the community. Greenidge Generation is still operating in Dresden, NY under grandfathered-in permits granted for use as a peaker plant, not 24/7 Bitcoin mining. Greenidge has applied for an air permit renewal and is awaiting a decision from the Department of Environmental Conservation. Similar fights have occurred in Plattsburgh and Niagara Falls, which resulted in local moratoriums.
Legislation (A7389B/S6486C) to place a 3 year moratorium on Bitcoin mining in New York State is picking up steam in the Assembly with 41 co-sponsors including 15 senior-ranking Assembly committee chairs as of February 24.
About Seneca Lake Guardian
Seneca Lake Guardian is a New York State Not-for-Profit Corporation with 501(c)(3) and is dedicated to preserving and protecting the health of the Finger Lakes, its residents and visitors, its rural community character, and its agricultural and tourist related businesses through public education, citizen participation, engagement with decision makers, and networking with like-minded organizations.