BREAKING: In New Decision, Judge Finds Greenidge Generation's Air Permit Inconsistent with NYS Climate Law
DRESDEN, NY (09/26/2023) (readMedia)-- Yesterday, a New York State Administrative Law Judge issued a Ruling on Greenidge Generation's appeal of the Department of Environmental Conservation's denial of the operation's Title V Air Permit. The ruling finds that Greenidge Generation's operations are inconsistent with and will interfere with the greenhouse gas emissions limits of New York's Climate Law (the CLCPA), as the DEC found in June 2022. Greenidge now has one month to appeal again.
"This is a big win for the climate and New Yorkers. On issue after issue, the judge rejected Greenidge's arguments. Earthjustice and our clients welcome this Ruling, on behalf of the communities that live near this fossil power plant that mines cryptocurrency and that pollutes 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. We look forward to working quickly to resolve the few remaining issues in this case as expeditiously as possible," said Mandy DeRoche, Deputy Managing Attorney in the Clean Energy Program at Earthjustice.
"Once again, New York State confirmed that climate-killing Greenidge Generation goes against our nation-leading Climate Law. This is a huge win, and now we need Greenidge to shut down for good. For more than two years, the Finger Lakes community raised our voices and fought against Greenidge. But the operation is still accelerating climate change, harming our environment, and threatening the Finger Lakes' $3 billion, 60,000-employee local agriculture economy. This failing company goes against everything that makes the Finger Lakes special," said Yvonne Taylor, Vice President of Seneca Lake Guardian.
Earthjustice represents Seneca Lake Guardian, Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, Committee to Preserve the Finger Lakes, and Fossil Free Tompkins.
The Ruling grants Petitioners' Seneca Lake Guardian, The Committee to Preserve the Finger Lakes, Fossil Free Tompkins, and Sierra Club-Atlantic Chapter Petition for Party Status and eliminates the vast majority of Greenidge's proposed issues, primarily on the basis that DEC did not err in any of the various ways Greenidge claimed. It sets forth just three issues for adjudication at a future fact hearing and sets a one month deadline for legal appeals.
Highlights include findings that:
- The plant's operations are inconsistent with and interfere with the CLCPA.
- For example, the Ruling states "The increasing actual GHG emissions from the facility, and Greenidge's projections that the actual GHG emissions would continue to increase to match the maximum permitted PTE [Potential to Emit], were sufficient to establish that renewal of the facility was inconsistent with the GHG emissions goals of the CLCPA."
- Greenidge had not put in sufficient evidence proving the plant's operations as a cryptocurrency mine were "justified" under the CLCPA.
- The Ruling states : "The burden is on Greenidge to submit information to demonstrate that a decision to renew the permit would be justified. . . Greenidge did not provide Department staff with the minimum information it needed."
- Greenidge had not put in sufficient evidence showing any "real, permanent, quantifiable and enforceable" evidence to minimize or mitigate the power plant's harms under the CLCPA.
The Ruling also found:
- Thousands of community members and New Yorkers submitted comments in opposition to the air permit for the facility's current operations.
- The DEC does have the authority to deny permits under the CLCPA.
- "... the court decision in Danskammer v DEC and the Danskammer Issues Ruling, while not controlling, are persuasive authority in this matter and further conclude that the CLCPA § 7(2) authorized the Department to deny Greenidge's application to renew its Title V air permit."
- With respect to Greenidge's change in purpose from operating as a peaker plant to a round-the-clock cryptocurrency mining operation: "Department staff did not err in finding the primary purpose of the facility had changed from a peaker facility to a facility primarily providing power to cryptocurrency mining behind the meter. The finding was reasonable and was based on the information Greenidge provided."
- With respect to Greenidge's arguments that its current operations are "better" today than decades ago, the Ruling stated: "... the level of GHG emissions from the Greenidge coal burning facility in 1990 is not relevant to the determination of whether renewal of Greenidge's Title V permit would be "inconsistent with or will interfere with the attainment of the statewide greenhouse gas emissions limits established in article 75 of the environmental conservation law" pursuant to § 7(2) of the CLCPA."
On June 30, 2022, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation issued a Notice of Denial of the air permit renewal for Greenidge Generation, the climate change accelerating crypto-mining fracked gas plant in the Finger Lakes. It became a national story and test case for how states should handle the exploitative and extractive crypto-mining industry. But Greenidge is still operating, and is allowed to continue operating as long as it undergoes litigation for that decision. As long as the plant operates, it accelerates climate change, harms the environment, and threatens the Finger Lakes' $3 billion, 60,000-employee agritourism economy, even as the company faces threats of delisting from the NASDAQ.
Greenidge Generation is a gas-fired power plant that previously only operated to provide power to New York's grid in times of peak demand. Now, it burns fracked gas 24/7/365 to mine Bitcoin. If Greenidge finishes its planned expansion it will emit 1 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, equivalent to more than 200,000 cars on the road for a year.
Greenidge isn't the only fracked gas-burning Bitcoin mining operation threatening New York's climate progress.
Advocates, organizations, and elected officials are also urging Governor Hochul and her administration to deny the air permit renewal for the gas-fired Digihost/Fortistar North Tonawanda power plant, now also a polluting proof-of-work crypto mining operation, in Western New York.
Burning fossil fuels like gas accelerates climate change, and a study from The Journal of Cleaner Production shows how the carbon and water footprint of cryptocurrency far surpasses that of traditional fiat currencies. This impacts all of our lives, including as smoke from the Canadian wildfires blanketed New York in a post-apocalyptic haze. Climate change makes these fires worse and more frequent, and bad air quality is the world's leading environmental killer, linked to over 100,000 deaths each year in the U.S. alone. While the rest of New York works to meet the greenhouse gas emission reduction mandates of our climate law to fight climate change, Greenidge and Digihost/Fortistar are fighting to continue burning fracked gas.
Accelerating climate change and contributing to air pollution isn't the only negative impact of Greenidge's operations - residents who live near the facility report significant amounts of air pollution. According to the New York Times, a growing body of research shows that chronic noise is a largely unrecognized health threat that increases the risk of hypertension, stroke, and heart attacks.
On November 22, 2022, Governor Hochul signed the first-in-the-nation two-year moratorium on new and renewed air permits for fossil-fueled power plants that produce their own energy to mine crypto. The new law requires the DEC perform a full environmental impact assessment on the energy and environmental impacts of crypto mining operations. However, the moratorium did not affect air permit applications that had already been submitted before its enactment, such as Greenidge's and Digihost/Fortistar's applications.
In its most recent report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that Earth is likely to cross a critical and dire threshold for global warming within the next decade if we don't quickly and drastically reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. But after China banned proof-of-work crypto-mining (the process Bitcoin uses), citing, among other things, the environmental threats that mining poses to meeting emissions reduction goals, the U.S. is now hosting many energy-intensive proof-of-work crypto-mining operations. While these facilities of automated machines create few new jobs, they threaten the climate, in addition to small businesses, local economies, and natural resources.
Proof-of-work cryptocurrency mining is an 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 for cooling. Globally, Bitcoin mining consumes more energy each year than entire countries. Fossil-fueled mining facilities can also be major emitters of local air pollutants.
Earlier this year, the New York Times published an in-depth expose about the negative impacts of proof-of-work Bitcoin mining. In September 2022, the White House sounded the alarm about cryptocurrency mining - the Office of Science and Technology Policy released a report about the industry's climate threats and the need for regulation. But cryptocurrency mining continues to grow rapidly across the country. Earthjustice and the Sierra Club released a Guidebook, finding that in one year from mid-2021 to mid-2022, Bitcoin mining in the U.S. alone consumed as much electricity as four states combined, emitting 27.4 million tons of CO2 - equivalent to the emissions of as much as 6 million cars annually. More highlights from the Guidebook:
- Proof-of-work cryptocurrency mining has grown explosively in the United States since 2020. Today, an estimated 38% of Bitcoin is mined in the U.S, resulting in nearly 30 million tons of excess CO2 emissions in the last year alone.
- From mid-2021 to mid-2022, Bitcoin consumed 36 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity - as much as all of the electricity consumed in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Rhode Island put together in that same time period.
- The massive energy consumption of cryptocurrency mining threatens to undermine decades of progress toward achieving climate goals and reducing local pollution. In addition, cryptocurrency mining practices raise costs and risks for utilities and their ratepayers, can stress electric grids, and flood communities with noise.
- The cryptocurrency mining industry already uses half the electricity of the entire global banking sector, and it will overtake the sector in two years if current trends continue. Meanwhile, the ratio of Bitcoin's energy consumption to humans who actually have Bitcoin is extremely high.
- Rather than investing in long-term energy infrastructure that benefits the grid, the cryptocurrency mining industry seeks the fastest energy that can serve its needs, and looks for minimal regulation and oversight. In practice, that translates to mining cryptocurrency at coal and gas plants, straining the electric grid in Texas, and tapping into power grids that are often fossil-fuel heavy.
- Most mining facilities draw their power from the grid. That means electricity is generated by whatever existing energy is in place in the region. No grid anywhere in the U.S. is 100% renewable yet.
- Proponents also claim that mining is spurring new renewable development and stabilizing the grid. But clean energy allocated to cryptocurrency mining doesn't actually do anything to decarbonize the grid, and there are few mining facilities that are building renewables to even power their own operations, let alone send to the grid.
- Cryptocurrency mining proponents claim that mining uses "wasted" energy from solar or wind overproduction. But mining operations consume energy 24 hours a day, not just when there is excess solar or wind - meaning mining operations would fail to be profitable using only the hours when wasted energy is available.
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