On Friday, Elizabeth Warren and other Democratic congressmen sent a letter to two federal regulators urging them to take action against the U.S. bitcoin mining explosion.
The letter, which was sent to heads of the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy, was prompted by preliminary research by lawmakers that found just a handful of cryptominers were using an enormous amount of energy. In response, lawmakers are urging authorities to require crypto mining companies to share data on their energy use and emissions.
According to the letter, seven of the largest crypto mining companies in the US have the combined capacity to consume over 1 gigawatt of electricity. That’s the equivalent of two standard coal-fired power plants, or, according to the letter, almost enough to power all of Houston’s homes. This is just the tip of the iceberg as there is no government action to capture a full picture of the environmental impact of the recent US crypto mining boom.
Crypto mining has exploded in the US over the past year, in part due to China’s crackdown on the practice in 2021. The US is the world’s largest center for mining Bitcoin and typically operates 24/7 data centers to mine the currency. These data centers are filled with specialized hardware racing to solve complex equations to verify transactions and in turn earn bitcoin. All this computing power eats up vast amounts of electricity – and causes environmental pollution as a result.
The move from China to the US has likely made the Bitcoin network even dirtier, as China’s abundant hydroelectric power has been replaced with electricity from coal and gas from the US grid.
All of this has made policymakers concerned about the impact crypto mining will have on the country’s climate change goals as well as electricity bills. The practice has already pushed up electricity prices in New York, for example. In one extreme example, residents of Plattsburgh, NY, saw their utility bills increase by as much as $300 in the winter of 2018 after bitcoin miners settled nearby.
Last month, New York State passed legislation imposing a two-year moratorium on new permits for fossil-fuel power plants used to mine energy-intensive currencies. The law has not yet been signed, but the state has also taken regulatory action to stop mining. In June, New York also refused an air permit to an embattled power plant, the Greenidge Generating Station, on the grounds that its use for bitcoin mining “would not be compatible with statewide greenhouse gas emission limits.”
Greenidge was one of the companies that Warren and other Democratic lawmakers sent requests to in January, demanding information about their energy use and emissions. According to the new letter released today, Greenidge was responsible for 273,326 tonnes of carbon emissions over a year, equivalent to the tailpipe emissions of nearly 60,000 cars.
Still, the impact of crypto mining in the US is much larger than what the letters say. First off, “None of the companies provided full and complete information in response to our questions,” the lawmaker wrote.
There are other clues as to how much energy crypto mining companies are actually guzzling across the country. In Texas, another bitcoin mining hotspot in the US, the crypto mining industry unleashed a total of about 1 gigawatt of energy following this week’s temporary shutdown. The companies shut down operations in response to a call from the state grid operator to conserve energy as a searing heat wave threatened to overwhelm the grid.
This hunger for energy is growing rapidly. “There is over 27 gigawatts of cryptoload working on the connection over the next four years,” said a spokesman for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). The edge in an email this week (the spokesman declined to be named). That’s an incredibly large load to bring onto the web in such a short amount of time, experts say The edge.
“The results of our investigation, which collected data from just seven companies, are troubling as this limited data alone shows that cryptominers are large energy consumers responsible for a significant — and rapidly growing — amount of carbon emissions,” it said in the letter to the EPA and Department of Energy says. It was signed by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Ed Markey (D-MA) and Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Jared Huffman (D-CA).
https://www.theverge.com/2022/7/16/23220671/bitcoin-cryptomining-democratic-lawmakers-letter-epa-energy-department Democratic lawmakers ask federal agencies to crack down on crypto mining