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DEC denies permit renewal for Finger Lakes cryptocurrency mining operation

NYS DEC logo
NYS DEC logo

While Governor Kathy Hochul considers a moratorium on the practice, an energy-intensive cryptocurrency mining operation in the Finger Lakes had an air permit renewal denied by the State Department of Environmental Conservation last week.

Greenidge Generation uses a converted natural gas power plant in Yates County, in the Finger Lakes, to power its thousands of computers used to mine bitcoin.

DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos told WAMC the operation’s Title V air permit renewal request was denied after the state agency applied it to terms of the state’s 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.

“We subjected the facility and its application to the relatively new climate law, the CLCPA, and found it was inconsistent with the terms of that law. It has increased emissions already; it has the potential to increase emissions more. In fact, emissions are up almost three-fold since the plant began operating in 2016. So, for us, the facts and the science were crystal clear and we applied the law and that resulted in a denial.”

Greenidge, which has touted the facility as a job creator that remains carbon neutral, said it would continue to operate in Dresden under its current agreement. The company released a lengthy response to the state’s actions on Thursday, including statements of support from local leaders.

Yates County Administrator Nonie Flynn called the DEC’s denial of renewal a disappointment,

“Not only because Greenidge has been operating the plant properly under all regulations, but also because New York taxpayers will have to finance the burden of a lengthy, expensive judicial battle.”

Statements supporting Greenidge were also attributed to the Finger Lakes Economic Development Center, Yates County Farm Bureau, and IBEW Local 840, which described the decision as the state throwing away good-paying jobs.

But climate activists cheered the DEC’s decision.

Yvonna Taylor is Vice President of Seneca Lake Guardian, a group that opposes the facility.

“We have a huge grassroots victory in New York state. This is a big win against corporate polluters and we need to take this victory and move forward. But this is our day to celebrate.”

Activists want Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul to sign legislation passed by the state Legislature last month that would implement a two-year moratorium on new cryptocurrency mining facilities at fossil fuel burning power plants.

“This is not a hard decision. This is a very easy decision. The decision has already been made. This is what the people want.”

Assemblymember Dr. Anna Kelles, a Democrat who represents part of the Finger Lakes region, authored the moratorium legislation.

Kelles says the move by the DEC and the moratorium are even more important following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in West Virginia v. EPA, which undermines the federal government’s abilities to regulate dangerous greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels:

“The rollback of the EPA’s protections and oversights on power plants happened the same day as New York stepping up and saying that, ‘Fine, the federal government cannot have these oversights? Then, we well take that into our own hands.’ And that is what the DEC did for us,” said Kelles.

For its part, Greenidge Generation says it believes “an unbiased court system will reverse this regulatory misjudgment” by the DEC.

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