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Gov Hochul + DEC Punt Decision on Greenidge Generation Air Permits Again

Electeds, Advocates, and Business Owners urge a decision; Demand Governor Hochul place moratorium on proof-of-work cryptomining and shut down Greenidge facility


ALBANY, NY (03/31/2022) (readMedia)-- Today, after a previous two-month delay and more than a year of advocacy by residents, business owners, wine makers, environmental activists, and elected officials, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) again pushed back its deadline to make a decision about Greenidge Generation's Title V Air Permit Renewal.

"It is outrageous that Governor Hochul not only failed to act but punted a decision to after the primaries in an apparent attempt to cover her political interests. This complete abdication of responsibility is a direct assault on the Finger Lakes, our $3 billion, 60,000-job local agritourism economy, and the climate. There is a cost to political cowardice and Governor Hochul and all of us may very well suffer the consequences," said Yvonne Taylor, vice president of Seneca Lake Guardian. "In light of Governor Hochul's total dereliction of responsibility, it's up to the State Legislature now to take the lead and impose a moratorium on this dangerous industry by passing A7389B / S6486C ."

"This action to once again delay the decision on the Greenidge air and water permits is incredibly disappointing and appears to be politically motivated. The DEC already explicitly asked for additional information from the applicants on how they comply with the CLCPA in early fall of last year. DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos and the DEC have had plenty of time to review Greenidge's application in the context of our Climate Leadership and Community Protection law. Thousands of elected officials, scientists, and concerned citizens alike submitted their comments and deserve a decision," said Assemblymember Dr. Anna Kelles. "If we allow proof-of-work cryptomining to expand unchecked across NY, we will fail to meet our climate goals and put our neighbors in increasing danger. There are many ways to validate cryptocurrency transactions, none of which use anywhere near as much of our precious energy resources as proof-of-work cryptomining. We simply cannot let proof of work mining lead to this enormous energy consumption spike at a moment when climate scientists are collectively stating that we must reduce our total greenhouse gas emissions by 50% in the next eight years to avoid the worst impacts of climate change."

Located on the shores of Seneca Lake, Greenidge is a once-mothballed power plant that was converted into a bitcoin mine by the private equity firm that owns it. The plant has brought only 48 new jobs to the region compared to the existing $3 billion agritourism economy, employing approximately 60,000 people, while poisoning the Finger Lakes' natural resources. With over 17,000 Bitcoin machines and plans to expand to 32,500, Greenidge will emit over one million tons of CO2 each year, equivalent to that of 100,000 homes. Greenidge also sucks 139 million gallons of water each day from Seneca Lake and dumps it back in at 108 degrees, risking toxic algal blooms that make this water source for 100,000 people non-potable.

The DEC has already confirmed that Greenidge is a threat to New York's energy goals as outlined in the CLCPA. In a story published in the Albany Times Union, the Department of Environmental Conservation cast doubts about continuing operations:

"Greenidge 'has not demonstrated that the project is consistent with the attainment of statewide greenhouse gas emission limits established in the Climate Act.' The agency said that Greenidge has not yet shown how the operation would not hinder the goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions."

And at a recent Environmental Conservation budget hearing when asked about the potential impact of the escalating cryptocurrency mining activity in upstate NY on the states energy grid, the NYS Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) President Doreen Harris stated, "There could be a very significant impact on NY load resulting from cryptocurrency mining depending on the penetration of the resource."

Greenidge is just the beginning, and advocates fear that a negative decision will signal to even more outside speculators that New York's closed and underutilized fossil fuel-burning plants are available to be bought up and re-open as gas guzzling Bitcoin mining cancers on communities. Advocates are urging Governor Hochul to put a statewide moratorium on proof-of-work cryptomining. New York hosts 20% of the U.S.'s Bitcoin mining to the detriment of small businesses, local economies, the environment, and the climate. After China banned cryptomining, citing the environmental threats the practice poses to meeting emissions reduction goals, outside speculators have flocked to upstate New York to take advantage of the nonexistent environmental regulations.

The Governor is well within her legal authority to act, according to a new white paper from Columbia Law School Sabin Center for Climate Change Law: A Pause on Proof-Of-Work: The New York State Executive Branch's Authority to Enact a Moratorium on the Permitting of Consolidated Proof of Work Cryptocurrency Mining Facilities. The paper (summary of findings available here) draws on precedent established in 2010 when the executive branch signed the fracking moratorium. It finds the Governor has authority to stop new proof-of-work cryptomining operations by enacting a moratorium on the permitting of these facilities until a Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) to determine the full extent of the impacts of mining on communities is complete.

Liz Moran, New York Policy Advocate for Earthjustice, said, "This delay is a failure to the residents and businesses of the Finger Lakes, and allows more greenhouse gas pollution in New York. If Governor Hochul wants to be a true climate champion, Greenidge's permit will be denied and a moratorium on proof-of-work mining will be put in place until its environmental and energy systems impacts can be studied. Proof-of-work crypto mining profits must not come at the expense of our environment and our state's climate mandates."

"The climate simply can't wait. Everyday we delay on making decisions like this, is another day we lose in the fight against the climate crisis." said Eric Wood, NYPIRG. The DEC must deny the title V air permit for Greenidge yesterday, so we can move on to the next phase in fighting the climate crisis."

"When it comes to climate change, delay equals death," said Food & Water Watch Senior New York Organizer Eric Weltman. "At the very time New York is moving off fossil fuels, resisting fracked gas expansion projects at Danskammer and Astoria NRG, proof-of-work crypto mining threatens to open a backdoor to pollution. We simply cannot allow the repowering of our oldest, dirtiest fracked gas plants for destructive crypto mining and maintain a hope of meeting our greenhouse gas emissions reductions goals. Governor Hochul must shut Greenidge down and issue a moratorium on proof-of-work crypto mining now."

"We implore Governor Hochul to take immediate steps to reject the Title V air permit for the Greenidge Generating Station and to establish a moratorium on energy intensive Proof of Work cryptocurrency mining operations to study the environmental and climate impacts. New York cannot afford a bitcoin mining explosion wreaking havoc on the state's climate law and policies and ravaging our energy supply in the middle of a climate crisis. We are out of time!" said Ellen Weininger, Director of Educational Outreach at Grassroots Environmental Education.


Background

Proof-of-work cryptocurrency mining (which Bitcoin uses) is an extremely energy-intensive process that requires thousands of machines whirring 24/7 to solve complex equations. The more machines that are running, the faster a coin is mined. Each one of these machines requires energy to run, plus more energy to run cooling technology. Globally, proof-of-work Bitcoin mining uses the same amount of energy each year as the entire country of Argentina. It produces 30,700 metric tons of e-waste each year, comparable to the yearly IT equipment waste of the Netherlands. If left unregulated, the industry will wreak irrevocable harm on the entire state of New York, making it impossible to reach New York's crucial climate goals as outlined in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA). The CLCPA commits to an 85% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050 and 100% zero-emission electricity by 2040.

These facilities are also major emitters of methane and toxic air pollutants including benzene, formaldehyde and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are precursors of ground level ozone pollution and known causes of asthma, heart attacks, strokes, reproductive damage and preterm birth.

Powering Bitcoin mining with renewables is not a viable solution, as renewables supply cannot possibly meet the extreme energy demands of Bitcoin mining in addition to daily necessities such as heating and cooling homes and running cars. Any renewable energy that supports Bitcoin mining is renewable energy that is being diverted from the public grid. And when crypto miners rely on the public grid, they stick everyday New Yorkers with the bill. A 2021 study estimates "the power demands of cryptocurrency mining operations in upstate New York push up annual electric bills by about $165 million for small businesses and $79 million for individuals.

Cryptomining is also at odds with the overwhelmingly popular amendment to the state constitution passed last year, which guarantees every New Yorker the right to clean air, clean water, and a healthful environment. Revitalizing old polluting power plants for private financial gain, with drastic consequences for our air, water and climate, all while causing huge amounts of noise pollution, is now unconstitutional - and ought to be treated as such.

Reform groups Common Cause/NY and NYPIRG have specifically criticized the crypto mining industry for exploiting public resources and straining the energy grid for private gain, and a group of federal lawmakers led by Senator Elizabeth Warren recently requested details from six major Bitcoin mining companies about their electricity usage and contributions to climate change. Earlier this month, President Biden issued an executive order requiring federal agencies study the legal, economic, and environmental impacts of cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin mining. Even the Mayor of New York City, Eric Adams, an avid crypto booster has come out against mining, declaring at a February 9th joint session of the Legislature: "I support cryptocurrency, not crypto mining."

More than 1,000 organizations, businesses, environmental activists, concerned residents, wine makers, elected officials, and more have taken action over the last year in opposition to crypto mining in New York State. A letter sent to Governor Hochul in October was signed by more than 650 individuals and groups. In letters to Governor Cuomo last year opposing Greenidge Generation's expansion from an emergency peaker plant to a 24/7 Bitcoin mining operation, organizations, businesses, and Finger Lakes residents demanded Gov. Cuomo revoke Greenidge's permits due to its massive greenhouse gas emissions, poisoning of the Finger Lakes, and noise pollution, with no economic benefit to the community. Greenidge Generation is still operating in Dresden, NY under grandfathered-in permits granted for use as a peaker plant, not 24/7 Bitcoin mining. Greenidge has applied for an air permit renewal and is awaiting a decision from the Department of Environmental Conservation. Similar fights have occurred in Plattsburgh and Niagara Falls, which resulted in local moratoriums.

Legislation (A7389B/S6486C) to place a 3 year moratorium on Bitcoin mining in New York State is picking up steam in the Assembly with 41 co-sponsors including 15 senior-ranking Assembly committee chairs as of February 24.

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About Seneca Lake Guardian

Seneca Lake Guardian is a New York State Not-for-Profit Corporation with 501(c)(3) and is dedicated to preserving and protecting the health of the Finger Lakes, its residents and visitors, its rural community character, and its agricultural and tourist related businesses through public education, citizen participation, engagement with decision makers, and networking with like-minded organizations.