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Advocates seek moratorium on Bitcoin mining, denial of air permit for Finger Lakes facility

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Advocates including a former mayor of Plattsburgh are urging New York state to place a moratorium on cryptocurrency mining and to deny a permit renewal for a converted power plant used for crypto mining in the Finger Lakes region.

Greenidge Generation operates a natural gas power plant in the Finger Lakes community of Dresden. The facility, formerly a coal-fired power plant, is used to power thousands of computers that generate bitcoins. The profitable operation generates millions of dollars and the company is planning an expansion.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation recently extended its timeframe to make a decision on renewing the facility’s Title V air permit. The new deadline is June 30th.

Advocates are calling on the DEC to reject the renewal, and on Governor Kathy Hochul to impose a moratorium on so-called “proof-of-work” bitcoin mining.

Former Plattsburgh Mayor Colin Read led a virtual press conference Wednesday.

“Please follow the science. Deny Greenidge’s air permit renewal before the primary and put a moratorium on proof-of-work crypto mining. Let’s not play politics with our pocketbooks and our cherished economy any longer, it’s just too costly. It’s killing our environment and localities,” said Read.

While serving as mayor through 2020, Read introduced a moratorium on new cryptocurrency mining that remained for 18 months. Bitcoin miners were attracted to Plattsburgh for its cheap power, and used so much that local residents saw their rates go up.

The advocates say using fossil fuels to support cryptocurrency mining runs counter to the state’s clean energy goals and harms the local environment.

State Senator Rachel May, a Democrat from the 53rd District, has authored legislation to scrutinize mothballed power plants being brought back online.

“I do have a bill to make sure that in the future other dormant power plants are not brought back on online without a full environmental review of all of the impacts from whatever the operation is that’s proposed,” said May.

May said she’s concerned about the industry’s impact on freshwater resources.

“We have these cold water lakes that are incredibly important ecosystems and to take that water, and particularly that cold water resource, to be chilling these plants instead of to be supporting the trout fisheries and other functions that they perform in the lakes themselves…I think we need to be thinking holistically about what this industry is doing and whether it is compatible at all about the goals that we have for the long term of our freshwater resources and our climate,” said May.

Dr. Robert Howarth, a Professor of Biology at Cornell and member of the New York State Climate Action Council, says the fossil-fuel powered Greenidge plant is out of line with carbon reduction goals set in the state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.

“So I do hope the DEC will act to not grant the Greenidge permit, and it’s just totally inconsistent with the CLCPA,” said Howarth.

Greenidge has touted its facility as a job creator that remains carbon neutral.

After the DEC announced its delay in making a decision on Greenidge’s air permit, the company issued a lengthy statement.

The statement reads in part:

“…We are willing to do far more than we have already done to further reduce GHG emissions and help the State achieve its statewide CLCPA goals. Notwithstanding the noise from our few remaining opponents, this is a standard air permit renewal governing permitted emissions levels, not a cryptocurrency permit. Their efforts to mislead the public – and to cause our team members and IBEW partners to lose their jobs without any basis in law or fact – have been shameful.”

DEC provided a statement to WAMC:

“DEC subjects every application to all applicable federal and State standards to ensure the agency’s decision is protective of public health and the environment and upholds environmental justice and fairness, including standards related to the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.”  

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.