NYS Assembly Passes Cryptomining Moratorium
After more than a year of advocacy from NYS residents, business owners, winemakers, electeds, activists, and more, advocates applaud Assembly and urge Senate to pass moratorium bill ASAP
ALBANY, NY (04/27/2022) (readMedia)-- The NYS Assembly just passed legislation (A.7389-C Kelles/S.6486-D Parker) with 95/147 votes that 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. The bill must now be passed by the Senate before going to Governor Hochul's desk. Last year, the Senate passed the same bill by a 36-27 margin.
"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, just to make a few people very, very rich. I applaud the Assembly for putting New Yorkers and the planet first, and taking steps to curb this dangerous industry," said Yvonne Taylor, vice president of Seneca Lake Guardian. "In the absence of Governor Hochul's leadership on this issue, the Senate must immediately take up and repass the moratorium bill, as they did last year by a substantial margin. This is an issue that matters to New Yorkers, evidenced by the 4,000 public comments sent to DEC about Greenidge Generation's Title V Air permit renewal, 98.8% of which were opposed to the plant's cryptomining operations. Repowering or expanding coal and gas plants to make fake money in the middle of a climate crisis is literally insane."
"Should proof-of-work cryptocurrency expand in New York unchecked, New York's climate mandates would become nearly impossible to meet," said Liz Moran, New York Policy Advocate for Earthjustice. "According to global climate scientists, the world must rapidly move off fossil fuels and cut greenhouse gas emissions before the end of the decade to avoid climate catastrophe - but expanded proof-of-work mining would take us in the opposite direction. We applaud the Assembly for passing this incredibly reasonable legislation that will temporarily stop these cryptocurrency mining operations from setting up shop and repowering old gas plants while DEC conducts an environmental review. New York can't afford to undercut its own climate law - we urge the Senate to follow the Assembly and pass this legislation again."
"Bitcoin mining powered by burning fracked gas opens a backdoor to greenhouse gas pollution at the very time New York must move off the fossil fuels supercharging the climate crisis," said Food & Water Watch Senior Organizer Eric Weltman. "The Senate and Governor Hochul must follow the Assembly's lead and strike a blow against fracking and fossil fuels by ensuring this important climate bill becomes law this year. The United Nations recently declared that it is 'now or never' to prevent global climate catastrophe. It is up to Governor Hochul and the Senate to make it now, because when it comes to climate change, any delay equals death."
"The proliferation of proof-of-work cryptocurrency mining in old power plants in New York risks killing the state's bold greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals by the death of a thousand cuts. The Assembly took an important first step to safeguard the state's Climate Act by passing Assemblymember Kelles' legislation (A.7389-C), which would place a moratorium on issuing new pollution permits for proof-of-work cryptomining at converted fossil fuel power plants. It's now up to the Senate to pass the bill and governor Hochul to sign it. But that's not enough: The DEC should deny the Greenidge permits and the governor must use her authority to place a moratorium on current cryptomining operations at power plants, like Greenidge, until the impacts are fully assessed. In the meantime, cryptocurrency operations can power their operations through increasingly affordable renewable energy," said Russ Haven, Esq., NYPIRG General Counsel.
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. 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. 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.