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2021 environment in review: The cryptocurrency mining debate

Greenidge Generation on Seneca Lake
Vaughn Golden
Protests against Greenidge Generation’s plans to expand its Bitcoin mining operation on Seneca Lake morphed into a statewide issue in 2021.

As the new year begins, we take a look back at some of the most pressing environmental issues from the past 12 months. A debate over cryptocurrency mining on Seneca Lake turned into a broader test of New York state’s climate law — one that is likely to come to a head in 2022.

After a failed attempt at the tail end of the legislature’s session in 2021, lawmakers are crafting a proposal to place a moratorium on some energy intensive cryptocurrency generation operations. Environmental activists are worried about emissions from large-scale mining operations and how that may slow down the state’s progress at combating climate change.

The legislative effort was largely spurred by protests over Greenidge Generation, a natural gas-burning power plant and cryptocurrency mining operation on Seneca Lake in Yates County. Additionally, the New York DEC is considering whether to renew an air pollution permit for Greenidge.

The environmental regulator is concerned the natural gas-burning power plant will prevent the state from reaching its goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as enshrined under the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act or CLCPA.

“I think that the Greenidge site is, you know, has really served as a test case for how serious the CLCPA law is going to be taken by Gov. Hochul and Commissioner Seggos,” Yvonne Taylor, vice president of Seneca Lake Guardian, one of the earliest environmental activist groups to draw attention to Greenidge.

Greenidge has rallied support in response to the criticisms against it. One of the company’s strongest allies is the state’s electrical worker’s union, the IBEW.

“These mining facilities will need regular maintenance and upgrades as the technology advances, creating construction jobs including those for IBEW members,” Addie Jenne, a lobbyist for the electrical worker’s union told a state Assembly panel earlier this year.

The DEC’s decision, which could be issued as early as this month, may reflect a new standard for large emitters in the state when they apply to renew air pollution permits.