Cryptomining: A Moratorium Advances in New York While Texas Embraces Industry

The bill ‘is not a ban on crypto. It’s not even a ban on mining. It is a two-year moratorium specifically on cryptocurrency mining operations that are housed at fossil fuel burning power plants.’

An advertisement for Bitcoin cryptocurrency. AP/Kin Cheung, file

Even as the New York State assembly this week was approving a moratorium on cryptomining, turning the bill over to the state senate, a city in Texas has  begun to mint its own Bitcoin.

The Empire State bill, which would put a two-year pause on new or renewed permits for fossil-fuel-powered cryptomining plants, is directly targeted at Greenidge Generation.

The company operates a decommissioned natural gas power plant at Dresden, New York, that it has reopened as what is called a behind the meter proof-of-work Bitcoin mining plant.

A release from the state Assembly explains that the bill “is not a ban on cryptocurrency mining” and “only applies to mining operations at decommissioned power plants.”

Ccryptomining is the process during which high-powered computers are used to create new cryptocurrency tokens — in this case Bitcoin. Proof-of-work cryptomining is incredibly energy intensive, using a similar amount globally as the gold mining and refining industry.

“Behind the meter” references that the Greenidge plant does not draw power from the grid but rather produces energy at its own facility for the express purpose of mining Bitcoin.

The facility, which was permitted as a power plant, now burns natural gas for the purpose of mining Bitcoin. The legislation would not ban cryptomining outright but rather the type of operation conducted by Greenidge.

“My bill is not a ban on crypto. It’s not even a ban on mining,” the bill’s sponsor, Assemblymember Anna Kelles, said. “It is a two-year moratorium specifically on cryptocurrency mining operations that are housed at fossil fuel burning power plants.”

The legislation also stipulates that the Department of Environmental Conservation perform a full assessment of environmental impact within a year of the bill becoming enacted.

The bill will now be passed to the state senate, where those familiar with the situation expect significant resistance. 

It was reported earlier this year that a group of more than a dozen cryptocurrency firms pooled $1.5 million in an effort to keep New York’s $2 billion cryptocurrency industry largely unregulated.

Even so, public pressure to pass the moratorium is building. Senator Gillibrand, responding to an open letter sent by local activists, promised Wednesday to visit the Finger Lakes to investigate the situation.

“I share your concerns about the environmental impact of Bitcoin mining, particularly in upstate New York near the Finger Lakes,” Ms. Gillibrand said on WNYC. “I support the community in trying to push out cryptomining in places like the Finger Lakes.”

Ms. Gillibrand and Senator Schumer have previously written letters to the Environmental Protection Agency urging the federal agency to investigate the environmental impact of cryptomining in New York.

Legislation in New York would be a landmark for the country, as concerns grow about the impact and energy use of cryptomining. China has banned the practice, citing energy consumption as a key factor.

While New York moves toward ending fossil-fueled cryptomining, a city in Texas became the first U.S. municipality to mine bitcoin.

Fort Worth this week started to mine Bitcoin right in city hall. While the practice raises questions on constitutionality — Article 1, Section 10 of the Constitution prohibits states from minting their own currency — the embrace of the industry in Texas strikes a stark contrast to New York.

“With blockchain technology and cryptocurrency revolutionizing the financial landscape, we want to transform Fort Worth into a tech-friendly city,” Mayor Mattie Parker said. “We’re stepping into that world on a small scale while sending a big message — Fort Worth is where the future begins.”

The Greenidge facility has been in focus because it is the first of its kind — a behind the meter cryptomining plant — and one that activists contend is unlawful.

The Sun has previously reported that the Greenidge facility acquired its permits under the assumption it would sell energy to the grid, as most power plants do. Although the facility does generate electricity, an open question remains on whether its cryptomining activities serve the public interest, as required.

The plant’s emissions permits and “Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity,” are generally reserved for “needed” plants, according to New York Public Interest Research Group’s counsel, Russ Haven.

Activists are also pushing for New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation to not renew the facility’s emissions permits, a decision scheduled to be made at the end of June.

“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,” Mr. Haven said.

“In the meantime, cryptocurrency operations can power their operations through increasingly affordable renewable energy,” he added.

The New York Sun

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