A new bill that hit the New York state senate on Monday is aiming to put a multi-year pause on crypto mining operations across the state until authorities can fully suss out what that mining is doing to the climate and local environment. Bill 6486 is being spearheaded by state Sen. Kevin Parker, who had previously sponsored other bills to help the state meet its climate goals.
Bitcoin mining has come under increasing scrutiny for the staggering carbon footprint tied to electricity use to keep operations running 24/7. An analysis by Digiconomist puts the global mining footprint at around 53 megatons of carbon dioxide annually, equivalent to all of Sweden’s emissions. Upstate New York has recently become a hotbed of mining activity, and there could be more mines in the works.
While Parker’s bill will likely go through a few edits before it (hopefully) gets passed, in its current state, it would institute a three-year moratorium on mining operations. During that period, officials would try to measure the greenhouse gas emissions tied to mining as well as the impacts on local wildlife, water, and air quality. Per the bill, the results of that assessment would be publicly issued and be subject to a roughly four-month comment period. That would allow for public input as lawmakers weigh regulations, of which there are more than a few they could implement to crack down on bitcoin-related pollution.
Small upstate towns, notably Dresden and Alcoa, are where mining operations have taken hold in recent years. There, bitcoin-hungry profiteers have repurposed decrepit power plants that haunt these towns into crypto mining operations. In some cases, the plants provide some power to the grid while using the rest to run their mining operations. They’ve been turning profits for the plant’s new owners and raised more than a few eyebrows among environmental advocates.
Last month, Dresden’s Greenidge power plant announced plans to drastically expand its operation with four new single-story buildings, each planned to house nothing but the power-guzzling servers that this type of mining mandates, spread wall to wall. The owners plan to double its capacity by the end of the year, and boost the plant’s capacity to 500 megawatts by 2025.
The review process in the new bill would mirror what we saw in the state more than a decade ago around fracking, said Roger Downs, the conservation director for the Atlantic Chapter of the Sierra Club. Back in 2008, now-former Gov. David Paterson ordered an environmental review into the effects of fracking. What followed was a six-year window where groups on both sides argued the pros and the many, many cons, among them health hazards, rampant environmental damage, and irreversible wildlife harm. At the tail end of 2014, Gov. Andrew Cuomo formally banned the practice throughout the state, and that ban was codified into the state budget again last year.
“In this case, it’s an objective study on all the impacts of cryptocurrency,” Downs said. “At the end, there’ll be recommendations on how the state should regulate it, or if the state should allow it at all.”
Studies show that mining comes with a pretty hefty impact even as the bitcoin price keeps on surging. (And in fact, that may be one reason for the surge in carbon emissions as speculators jump into the market.) While the likes of Jack Dorsey and Elon Musk have falsely claimed bitcoin is good, actually, for the climate, the preponderance of evidence suggests otherwise.
Some regional governments have banned mining, notably Inner Mongolia, China, a hotbed for mining. Plattsburgh, New York became the first city in the state to ban mining back in 2018. But it’s not a coincidence that New York is suddenly becoming a bitcoin mining hotspot. Ironically, Downs pointed to the recently passed Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act or CLCPA as one of the lynchpins for this new surge in activity across the state’s bitcoin enthusiasts.
“With the new climate law, we’re clearly trending away from fossil fuel generation and trying to build renewables,” he said, pointing out that the final coal-powered plant in New York officially closed last year. “And we’ve had decades of losses in manufacturing capacity, so those big hulking power plants are no longer needed.”
Yet as the new bill points out, “[c]ryptocurrency mining threatens not only New York’s climate goals, under the CLCPA, but also global energy policy, such as the Paris Agreement.”
The bitcoin boom is just the result of people “taking advantage” of what amounts to miles and miles of unused real estate, Downs went on. “And taking advantage of it for something that’s very carbon-intensive, but slips through the cracks in our regulations.”