Electrical Workers Union Fights to Expand Crypto Mining in New York

This story was co-published with New York Focus, a research news site that covers New York politics.

New York’s 2022 legislative session ended earlier this month with little action on the climate. Lawmakers have opted for proposals to ban gas in new constructionauthorize the state to build renewable energy projects, reduce subsidies for fossil fuelse get funding to achieve the decarbonization goals of the state. However, climate advocates had a victory to celebrate: the legislature voted in favor of imposing a two-year moratorium on new cryptocurrency mining working test fueled by fossil fuels, fighting an emerging threat to the state’s clean energy goals.

But the bill has yet to pass Governor Kathy Hochul to become law. Once the legislature delivers the bill to her, which usually happens at the time she chooses, Hochul will have ten days to sign or veto it. She delayed her decision until the end of the year, explaining that “we have a lot of work to do over the next six months.” New York Mayor Eric Adams, who raised at least $ 200,000 from cryptographic donors between 2018 and 2021, wants Hochul to veto the moratorium.

That gives cryptographic companies time to influence Hochul’s decision and, meanwhile, to pounce on the dozens of power plants withdrawn from New York, as the bill would not affect mining centers that already operate. But there is another powerful interest group working to stop the project: key sections of organized work.

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The initial mining bill, introduced in May 2021, called for a three-year moratorium and a stricter ban on working test mining. When that bill died in the State Assembly last June, an official of its main sponsor said The Bloc: “The obstacle was the unions.”

In particular, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), which represents statewide construction workers who build and renovate cryptographic mining centers, has cultivated close ties with the industry and condemned the moratorium in the past on economic opportunities. would exclude. The AFL-CIO state also opposes the moratorium.

Hochul echoed his concerns: “We have to balance the protection of the environment, but also protect the opportunity for jobs that go to areas that do not have much activity.” she said at a press conference last month.

Proponents of the law argue that gas-fired power plants carry their own economic costs. Anna Kelles of Ithaca, who sponsors the bill in the Assembly, told the New York Focus that the public should consider “the handful of jobs that are created by the [Greenidge] installation in the face of jobs that may be threatened by the facility, “citing the nearly 60,000 tourism industry workers in the Finger Lakes region affected by air, water and noise pollution.

Not all unions oppose the moratorium. But the situation is only the last to highlight an awkward tension between labor and environmental interests.

A boom in cryptographic mining in the north of the state

Work-based mining mining, initiated by Bitcoin, verifies the blocks of cryptocurrency transactions using specialized computers that compete to solve complex puzzles. The process consumes surprising amounts of energy: every Bitcoin transaction use enough energy to feed an American household for 75 days.

New York has become a major force in cryptographic mining. In 2021, the state was home 20 percent of U.S. mining power, according to one estimate. Industry agents rushed to the state in search of closed power plants and production centers. The most notable renovation is a coal plant that was previously closed in the Finger Lakes region, now powered by natural gas and renovated to extract Bitcoin. In 2020, the facility emitted 220,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide.

The bill passed by the legislature would not close the Greenidge plant, as its mining operations are already underway. But it will prevent new power plants from being converted into a two-year moratorium period. In northern Tonawanda, two hours west, a project to convert a fossil fuel plant from Canadian company Digihost is also seeking approval before Hochul takes action. “There’s a trend,” Kelles said, adding that there are “two environmental justice communities within half a mile” of the Digihost plant.

The cuts have not stopped cryptographic interests from putting too much pressure on the bill. Governor Hochul has pocketed $ 40,000 from Ashton Soniat, president and CEO of Coinmint, a company that operates a former aluminum plant in Massena, New York. The company, which operates the plant using hydroelectric power, emigrated from Plattsburgh, New York, after energy rates skyrocketed and the city became the first city to temporarily ban cryptographic mining.

A PAC funded by billionaire cryptocurrency Sam Bankman-Fried recently donated $ 1 million to Hochul’s formula mate, Lieutenant Governor Antonio Delgado. harsh criticism of his challenger. A spokesman for the CAP said so Albany Times Union that the contribution was based on Delgado’s record on pandemic preparedness, which the group says is its main priority in races across the country.

Disunity among workers

The cryptocurrency mining industry has promised to hand over jobs to declining industrial cities, and unions hope to reap the benefits. According to former State Assembly member Addie Jenne, who heads the IBEW Legislative Council, the union represents workers at both the Greenidge and Coinmint facilities. Jenne could not confirm how many union workers operate cryptographic facilities, but materials from the power company serving the Greenidge plant said last year that the facility had a workforce of “nearly 40 IBEW members.”

Jenne argued that the crypto industry can “rekindle” disinvested communities through employment and taxes and “provide a rumor to attract a certain type of workforce … and attract the economic development of the cluster.”

The union filed three notes in opposition to the moratorium. Last month, the New York State AFL-CIO he entered, stating that the proposed legislation “circumvents and undermines the validity of regulatory processes aimed at protecting our environment.” The IBEW also made direct contact with members of the legislature and the governor’s staff, Jenne said. And the IBEW New York PAC contributed $ 20,000 to the Hochul campaign.

But the work is not unified on the subject. The influential 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East supports the moratorium. “There is no public benefit for New Yorkers for using large amounts of our valuable energy resources to generate profits for a small number of wealthy private equity investors,” the union said in a statement. statement.

Nationwide, IBEW members work in almost every sector of the natural gas industry. Jenne said there must be jobs in the fossil fuel sector for “several more years” and that union members “see fossil fuels as a likely bridge to the future.”

‘Blown out of the water’

Tensions highlight the lack of support New York has so far offered to workers affected by the energy transition. The original version of the historic state climate law of 2019 included a number of labor provisions, including a safety net for fossil fuel workers who lose their jobs, which were removed from final bill. State unions and climate justice advocates keep pushing for those protections.

Another section of the Cryptographic Mining Bill would also require the state Department of Energy to assess the impact of the cryptographic mining industry on New York’s ability to meet emission reduction commitments. Kelles stresses the importance of this provision, arguing that the large amount of energy consumed by cryptocurrency mining “means that the estimates we have made about the amount of renewable energy infrastructure.” [the state needs may get] expelled from the water “.

Hochul’s move to delay the regulation of cryptocurrency mining is part of a pattern. She has already dotted twice on a decision on permits for Greenidge Generation, the latest extension of a deadline to two days after its primaries on June 28th. The IBEW encourages the “department to complete its work quickly and issue a final Title V air permit for Greenidge.”

According to Kelles, there are approximately 49 retired plants in New York State in which cryptographic companies could have their eyes. “If they say they are part of the climate solution,” Kelles asked the unions, “why do we fight so hard to maintain access to fossil fuel-based power plants?”

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