ICYMI: NYS Climate Goals Risk Death of a Thousand Cuts, Thanks to Cryptomining
New op-ed shows why cryptomining is a threat to New York's future
ALBANY, NY (04/29/2022) (readMedia)-- Russ Haven, General Counsel at NYPIRG, has a new op-ed in the Syracuse Post-Standard making the case for Governor Hochul to put a moratorium on proof-of-work cryptomining, and for the Department of Environmental Conservation to deny Greenidge Generation's air permit renewal. Read the full text of the op-ed below.
Decision on Finger Lakes crypto mine is Gov. Hochul's 'fracking moment' (Guest Opinion by Russ Haven)
At the end of last month we learned that - once again - New York state's Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) would delay its decision on whether to issue pollution permits to Greenidge Generation, a Bitcoin mining operation masquerading as a power plant in the Finger Lakes. We knew Gov. Kathy Hochul was a Buffalo Bills fan, but we didn't know she's also an NFL-caliber punter.
The latest delay means the decision will be at least five months past the original January deadline and in the meantime tons of climate-damaging pollution will be spit out by the plant operating under its expired permit.
While the governor and the state's environmental agency dither, Greenidge Generation is building out its operation with the goal of having 32,500 computers perform Bitcoin mining 24/7/365, leading to as much greenhouse gas emissions as 100,000 homes. The electric from the power plant runs the banks of computers that solve essentially meaningless puzzles that verify digital transactions. So-called "blockchain" technology has many useful applications, but the "proof of work" type used by Bitcoin and others is extremely energy intensive.
NYPIRG, along with national and state environmental groups and Finger Lakes' civic and business leaders oppose allowing the previously mothballed power plant to operate as an energy source for cryptocurrency mining.
Greenidge has argued its permits should be renewed because it's basically the same plant. It's not. A lot has changed since the last set of permits were issued back in 2016. For one thing, it used to run as a power plant sporadically during times of heavy electric demand, not full-tilt capacity. The other thing is New York passed the strongest climate law in the country, requiring the state to phase out fossil fuel use for electric generation, including a 40% statewide cut in GHG emissions and producing 70% of our electric through renewable sources by 2030.
As it became clear the DEC was skeptical of Greenidge's ability to comply with this law, the plant upped its promises to reduce carbon emissions to Climate Act levels. But these promises are suspect - requiring a massive reduction in Bitcoin mining or a massive investment in producing its own renewable energy.
Greenidge is just one operation, but it's the test case for cryptomining in New York, where we already host 20% of the country's mining - the most of any state. The governor's decision to kick the can down the road is a signal that our phased-out fossil fuel-burning power plants are available to be bought up and repowered by deep-pocketed outside speculators.
We need to retire fossil fuel infrastructure, not accept new excuses to keep it going. It's a disaster movie waiting to happen, and we've seen the early versions of it: climate change brought us Hurricanes Irene and Lee (2011) and Superstorm Sandy (2012), which took the lives of scores New Yorkers and resulted in billions of dollars of damage, and last summer's rains that deluged New York City with more than seven inches of rain in just a few hours, drowning residents in basement apartments and turning the streets and subways into canals.
This is Hochul's fracking moment: The DEC must deny Greenidge Generation's permit renewal. But that won't be enough to keep cryptomining from wreaking further harm on New York. The Hochul administration should follow the precedent set 10 years ago when New York was the first state in the country to put a ban on fracking because of the wide-ranging health and environmental problems it causes. While cryptomining's extractive technology may be digital, the damage is just as real and tangible. New York must put a moratorium on energy-hogging crypto mining power plants so that we can study its full effects on our environment. The Governor is well within her legal authority to act, as the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University detailed in a recent white paper.
The state's ambitious and necessary Climate Act goals hang in the balance, at risk of suffering the death of a thousand cuts from hedging, making exceptions, or giving in to fossil fuel plans and promises to go green. Gov. Hochul, you have the power. Please use it to deny the Greenidge permits and put energy-hogging cryptomining on hold.
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."
Greenidge Generation, a power plant-turned-Bitcoin mine operating under grandfathered-in permits by the private equity firm that owns it, is the test case for proof-of-work cryptomining in New York. Its air permits are currently up for renewal by the NY Department of Environmental Conservation, 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.
Located on the shores of Seneca Lake, Greenidge 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.
The DEC has consistently cited the need to sift through 4000 public 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. Researchers from Cornell University FOILed for the comments, and found that 98% of the comments are opposed to Greenidge.
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 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.
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. 1199SEIU endorsed legislation, which just passed the Assembly, that would put a two-year moratorium on new and renewed permits for proof-of-work cryptomining operations housed at fossil fuel-burning power plants (A.7389-C Kelles/S.6486-D Parker). A letter sent to Governor Hochul in April 2022 urging her to support said legislation was signed by more than 500 organizations, and one in October was signed by more than 650 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. And recently, 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 are suffering the environmental and economic consequences of Greenidge.
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.