DEC Denies Greenidge Permit: Advocates, Winemakers, AM Kelles Celebrate; Urge Gov to Pause Cryptomining NOW
SCOTUS decision curtailing EPA powers to limit GHG emissions puts added pressure on New York to act
DRESDEN, NY (07/01/2022) (readMedia)-- Yesterday, after a five-month delay and years of advocacy from more than 1,000 local businesses, organizations, bipartisan elected officials, winemakers, labor unions, and more, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) finally denied the Title V Air Permit renewal for Greenidge Generation. Using grandfathered-in permits, Greenidge has been pumping greenhouse gases into the air 24/7 and harming Seneca Lake just to mine Bitcoin, posing a major threat to the local $3 billion, 60,000-employee agritourism economy.
Advocates, wine makers, and elected officials held a press conference this morning to celebrate the decision. Watch the presser here.
"This is an incredible, precedent-setting moment for everyone who has fought side by side with the Finger Lakes community. Governor Hochul and the DEC stood with science and the people, and sent a message to outside speculators: New York's former fossil fuel-burning plants are not yours to re-open as gas-guzzling Bitcoin mining cancers on our communities," said Yvonne Taylor, vice president of Seneca Lake Guardian. "Now, it's up to Governor Hochul to finish the job by signing the cryptomining moratorium bill. Especially in light of the WV v. EPA decision, she has a real opportunity to protect New York's Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act -- and lead the nation – by acting now."
Located on the shores of Seneca Lake, Greenidge operated over 20,000 Bitcoin mining machines and planned to expand to over 32,500 machines, with visible smokestacks pumping dirty fossil fuels into the air 24/7. It was on track to emit over one million tons of CO2 each year, equal to that of 100,000 homes. Greenidge also sucked up to 139 million gallons of water each day from Seneca Lake and dumped it back in at up to 108 degrees. Gregory Boyer, director of SUNY's Great Lakes Research Consortium, warned about Greenidge's potential to cause toxic algal blooms, which can be dangerous or fatal to humans and other animals in Seneca Lake, making this water source for 100,000 people completely unusable for drinking, bathing, and other needs.
Cryptomining became a major issue in New York in recent months, and a flashpoint in the 2022 gubernatorial election. As crypto crashed and Governor Hochul refused to commit to signing the cryptomining moratorium passed by the state legislature, she took campaign donations from crypto billionaires and lobbyists. Upstate GOP and democrat leaders joined together and called on Governor Hochul to curb cryptomining, scientists implored her to follow the science on climate (as she did with COVID), and winemakers urged her to protect their threatened industry. In April, researchers from Cornell University FOILed for the public comments submitted to the DEC about Greenidge and found that 98% of the comments were in opposition to the facility's operations.
Greenidge was the test case for cryptomining in New York, and it's just the beginning. After being banned in China, outside speculators are flocking to New York to take advantage of a complete lack of regulations. New York now hosts a significant portion of the U.S.'s cryptomining, despite the economic risks associated with cryptomining and cryptocurrency, as advocacy groups Strong Economy for All and Action Center On Race and the Economy suggest. That's why advocates are still urging Governor Hochul to sign the widely popular cryptomining moratorium bill.
During the June 7 debate, Governor Hochul claimed that there is no connection between cryptocurrency industry donations to her campaign and her pending decision about the cryptomining moratorium bill. She said that she is reviewing the bill, and while still refusing to commit to signing the bill, she said: "We have to be very cautious about facilities going into former fossil fuel power plants...I am not interested in doing anything to harm the environment because I have the most ambitious climate law on the books."
Advocates are demanding she prove it by signing the bill to build on this momentous Greenidge Generation decision, and have launched a new campaign: flx.behindthemeter.org. The bill will establish a two-year moratorium on new and renewed permits for proof-of-work cryptomining operations housed at fossil fuel-burning power plants. The bill will also require the Department of Environmental Conservation to perform a full environmental impact assessment in a year's time on cryptomining operations and how they affect New York's ability to meet the climate goals mandated in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. However, it would not affect permit applications that have already been submitted or cryptomining plants that are already operating, of which there are many in New York.
"Governor Hochul and the Department of Environmental Conservation have demonstrated that New York is serious about upholding our nation-leading climate laws by denying Greenidge Generation LLC's application for a Title V air permit renewal. This is the first important step toward preventing the use of our old retired fossil-fuel power plants for personal corporate gain. This is a bold move that will protect our natural resources for New Yorkers and particularly important on a day when the Supreme Court has weakened the EPA's ability to regulate our power plants," said Assembly Member Anna Kelles.
"Thanks to the tireless advocacy of community advocates across the state, today's precedent-setting decision to deny Greenidge's Title-V air permit marks a major win for all of New York and demonstrates New York's commitment to adhering to our landmark climate law," said Liz Moran, New York Policy Advocate for Earthjustice. "We applaud the Governor and the Department of Environmental Conservation for listening to the science and rightfully denying this permit - but the work cannot end here. Especially in the face of the WV v. EPA decision, state climate leadership is needed now more than ever. New York must follow this win with Governor Hochul's signing of S.6486-D/A.7389-C into law. Proof-of-work crypto mining profits must not come at the expense of New Yorkers' health, the environment, and our state's climate mandates."
"Hochul said it herself - yesterday's Supreme Court ruling proves that states must redouble their efforts on climate. Denying the polluting fracked gas Greenidge plant its permits was a critical first step, but she must go further," said Food & Water Watch Northeast Region Director Alex Beauchamp. "Governor Hochul must sign the cryptomining moratorium sitting on her desk, and call a special session on climate to pass the All-Electric Building Act now."
"This decision by the NYS DEC is the right decision - and it is truly and literally a breath of fresh air after today's ruling from the US Extreme Court gutting the Clean Air Act. I am thankful for New York's nation leading climate act that requires reduction in our greenhouse gas emissions - and for DEC's steadfast adherence to it. I urge Governor Hochul to sign the crypto moratorium law now, to authorize DEC to undertake needed studies to determine the overall impact of cryptomining on NYS attainment of its renewable energy and GHG reduction requirements," said Irene Weiser, Coordinator Fossil Free Tompkins and former councilmember, Town of Caroline.
"The DEC made the right choice in denying the permit renewal for Greenidge Generation because the facility would have added significantly to New York State's carbon emissions," said Richard Schrader, New York Legislative and Policy Director for NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). "As digital currencies continue to boom, so are their emissions. We can't let crypto get us sidelined when it comes to delivering on the CLCPA and accelerating the transition to a healthy, equitable carbon-free New York."
"We commend Governor Hochul and the Department of Environmental Conservation for this precedent-setting environmentally beneficial decision," said Eric Wood of NYPIRG. "We applaud the Seneca Lake Guardians, who worked with EarthJustice, Sierra Club, Food & Water Watch and many other groups to secure this hard-fought victory."
"New York is the nation's leader in technological innovation - but sometimes that leadership means putting the brakes on emerging trends that could do irreparable harm to the environment," said Roger Downs, Conservation Director, Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter. "The revival of dirty fossil fuel plants, like Greenidge, to power energy hungry 'Proof of Work' cryptocurrency mining facilities represents the worst kind of flaunting of our climate laws. We thank Governor Hochul and DEC Commissioner Seggos for their foresight and leadership in holding cryptominers accountable and hope other states will follow."
"??As a New York State resident living on the front lines of this industry, I've seen first hand how polluting and contentious proof of work cryptocurrency mining, the largest type being Bitcoin, can be for a community. I'm grateful that Governor Hochul and DEC Commissioner Seggos have demonstrated their commitment to the CLCPA by denying Greenidge's Title V Air Permit," said Abi Buddington, Secretary of Committee to Preserve the Finger Lakes and property owner in Dresden, NY.
"We applaud Governor Hochul for rejecting the Title V air permit for the Greenidge Generating Station and upholding New York's climate law. We implore the Governor to continue to demonstrate strong leadership to protect our health, environment and climate by immediately establishing a moratorium on energy intensive Proof of Work cryptocurrency mining operations to study the environmental and climate impacts. New York cannot afford a bitcoin mining explosion wreaking havoc on the state's climate law and policies and ravaging our energy supply in the middle of a climate crisis. We are out of time!" said Ellen Weininger, Director of Educational Outreach at Grassroots Environmental Education.
Proof-of-work cryptocurrency 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 day 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.
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 Greenidge and cryptomining in New York State. NYC Comptroller Brad Lander sent a letter to NYS Leadership expressing strong support for a cryptomining moratorium. 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 grandfathered-in permits. Additionally, several 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 suffered the environmental and economic consequences of Greenidge.
Advocates are also calling on Governor Hochul to put a moratorium on cryptomining through executive action. The Governor is well within her legal authority to act, according to a 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.
Cryptomining is at odds with the overwhelmingly popular amendment to the New York 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 requested details from six major Bitcoin mining companies about their electricity usage and contributions to climate change. The NY League of Conservation voters sent a letter to Governor Hochul urging her to pause and regulate cryptomining, and 1199 SEIU recently announced their endorsement of a cryptomining moratorium. Earlier this year, President Biden issued an executive order requiring federal agencies study the legal, economic, and environmental impacts of cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin mining.
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.