Democratic lawmakers urge federal agencies to crack down on cryptocurrency mining

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On Friday, Elizabeth Warren and other members of Democratic Congress sent a letter to two federal regulators urging them to take action against the bitcoin mining explosion in the United States.

The letter, which was sent to the heads of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, was motivated by preliminary research by lawmakers who found that a handful of cryptominers used an enormous amount of energy. In response, lawmakers are urging authorities to require cryptocurrency mining companies to share data on energy consumption and emissions.

According to the letter, seven of the largest cryptocurrency mining companies in the United States have the combined capacity to consume more than 1 gigawatt of electricity. It’s the equivalent of two standard coal-fired power plants, or as the letter says, nearly enough to power every home in Houston. This is just the tip of the iceberg as there is no government action to capture the full picture of the environmental impact of the recent cryptocurrency mining boom in the United States.

It’s just the tip of the iceberg

Cryptocurrency mining has exploded in the US in the past year, partly due to China’s crackdown on the practice in 2021. The US is the largest Bitcoin mining hub in the world and typically operates 24 data centers. hours a day, 7 days a week to mine currency. These data centers are filled with specialized hardware to solve complex equations to verify transactions and, in turn, earn bitcoins. All this computing power consumes huge amounts of electricity and pollutes the environment.

The relocation of China to the US has likely made the Bitcoin network even dirtier, as China’s plentiful hydroelectricity has been replaced by electricity from coal and gas from the US network.

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All of this has prompted policymakers to worry about the impact cryptocurrency mining will have on the country’s climate change goals and electricity bills. This practice has already pushed up electricity prices in New York, for example. In an extreme example, residents of Plattsburgh, New York saw their bills soar to $ 300 during the winter of 2018 after bitcoin miners moved nearby.

Last month, New York State passed a law that imposes a two-year moratorium on new permits for fossil-fuel power plants used to mine energy-intensive currencies. The law has yet to be signed, but the state has also taken regulatory steps to discourage mining. In June, New York also denied an air permit to a troubled power plant, the Greenidge Power Plant, on the grounds that its use for mining bitcoin was inconsistent with greenhouse gas emission limits throughout. the state.

Greenidge was one of the companies that Warren and other Democratic lawmakers sent inquiries to in January, asking about their energy use and emissions. According to the new letter released today, Greenidge was responsible for 273,326 tons of carbon emissions in one year, equivalent to the tailpipe emissions of nearly 60,000 cars.

However, the impact of cryptocurrency mining in the United States is much greater than the letters say. First, none of the companies provided full and complete information in response to our questions, the lawmakers wrote.

There are other clues as to how much energy cryptocurrency mining companies across the country are actually consuming. In Texas, another bitcoin mining hotspot in the United States, the cryptocurrency mining industry released a total of around 1 gigawatt of power after this week’s temporary shutdown. The companies went out of business in response to a request from the public grid operator to save energy as a scorching heat wave threatened to overwhelm the grid.

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This thirst for energy increases rapidly

This thirst for energy increases rapidly. There are more than 27 gigawatts of cryptoload working to interconnect over the next four years, a spokesperson for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) said in an email to The Verge this week (the spokesperson declined to be named. ). It’s an incredibly large load to bring to the web in such a short amount of time, experts tell The Verge.

The results of our survey, which collected data from just seven companies, are worrying because these limited data alone shows that cryptominers are high-energy consumers responsible for a large and rapidly growing amount of carbon emissions, the letter said. ‘EPA and the Department of Energy. to say. It was signed by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Ed Markey (D-MA) and by representatives Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Jared Huffman ( D – CIRCA).

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