Decision on Finger Lakes crypto mine is Gov. Hochul’s ‘fracking moment’ (Guest Opinion by Russ Haven)


Russ Haven is a general counsel for the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), based in Albany and New York.

At the end of last month we learned that … once again – The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is delaying its decision on whether to issue pollution permits to Greenidge Generation, a Bitcoin mining operation that pretends to be a power plant in the Finger Lakes. We knew Governor Kathy Hochul was a Buffalo Bills fan, but we didn’t know it was an NFL bet either.

The last delay means the decision will be made at least five months after the original January deadline, and meanwhile the plant operating under its expired permit will spit out tons of climate-damaging pollution.

As the governor and state environmental agency discuss, Greenidge Generation is building its operation with the goal of 32,500 computers mining Bitcoin 24/7/365, which will result in as many greenhouse gas emissions as 100,000 homes. Power plant power runs computer banks that solve essentially nonsensical puzzles that verify digital transactions. The so-called “blockchain” technology has many useful applications, but the type of “working test” used by Bitcoin and others consumes a lot of energy.

NYPIRG, along with national and state environmental groups and Finger Lakes civic and business leaders are opposed to allowing the previously suspended power plant to function as a power source for cryptocurrency mining.

Greenidge argued that his permits should be renewed because it is basically the same plant. It is not. Much has changed since the last permits were issued in 2016. On the one hand, it used to operate as a power plant sporadically in times of high electricity demand, not full capacity. The other thing is that New York has passed the strongest climate law in the country, which requires the state to phase out the use of fossil fuels for electricity generation, including a 40% state cut in GHG emissions and produce 70% of the our electricity through renewable sources by 2030.

As it became clear that the DEC was skeptical about Greenidge’s ability to comply with this law, the plant increased its promises to reduce carbon emissions to Climate Law levels. But these promises are suspicious: they require a massive reduction in Bitcoin mining or a massive investment in the production of its own renewable energy.

Greenidge is just an operation, but it is the test case for cryptographic mining in New York, where we already house 20% of the country’s mining, most of any state. The governor’s decision to throw the can on the road is a sign that our fossil fuel-burning power plants are available to be bought and repowered by outside speculators.

We need to remove fossil fuel infrastructure, not accept new excuses to keep it. It’s a disaster movie waiting to happen, and we’ve seen the first versions of it: Climate change brought us Hurricanes Irene and Lee (2011) and Superstorm Sandy (2012), which killed dozens of New Yorkers and resulted in billions of people. dollars of damage and last summer’s rains that flooded New York City with more than seven inches of rain in a matter of hours, drowning residents in basement floors and turning streets and subways into canals.

This is the time of the Hochul fracking: the DEC must deny the renewal of the Greenidge Generation permit. But that will not be enough to prevent cryptocurrency from causing further damage in New York. The Hochul administration should follow the precedent set 10 years ago when New York was the first state in the country to ban fracking due to the widespread health and environmental problems it causes. Although cryptocurrency mining technology can be digital, the damage is just as real and tangible. New York must put a moratorium on cryptographic mining power plants that monopolize energy so that we can study all its effects on our environment. The governor is within her legal authority to act, as detailed by the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University in a recent white paper.

The ambitious and necessary goals of the State Climate Law weigh in the balance, running the risk of suffering the death of a thousand cuts in coverage, making exceptions or giving in to plans and promises to be green fossil fuels. Governor Hochul, you have the power. Please use it to deny Greenidge’s permissions and suspend energy-grabbing cryptocurrencies.

Opposite view: Pause in Cryptographic Mining to Slow Growth in New York (Guest by Michael Colyer)



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