DEC’s Cryptocurrency Mining Decision To Test New York’s Climate Law
VESTAL, NY (WSKG) — The New York Department of Environmental Conservation is moving forward with public hearings over a Yates County cryptocurrency mining operation this week, the latest step in a process that could result in legal precedent around the state’s cornerstone climate law.
Environmental advocacy organizations plan to encourage the DEC to deny the renewal of Title V air permits for Greenidge Generation, a natural gas-burning power plant and cryptocurrency mining operation along Seneca Lake, in public hearings Wednesday.
“While sufficient information has been submitted to begin the required public review, at this time the applicant has not demonstrated compliance with the requirements of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, including requirements regarding greenhouse gas emissions,” the DEC wrote in a statement to WSKG shortly after it announced the hearings last month.
That statement coincided with a Tweet from DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos saying Greenidge “has not shown compliance” with the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA).
NYS is taking action on #ClimateChange. Today @NYSDEC released for public comment draft air permits for former coal plant turned bitcoin mine, Greenidge LLC. DEC has not made a final determination on the permits and Greenidge has not shown compliance with NY’s climate law./1 pic.twitter.com/PKozYCUIeQ— Basil Seggos🇺🇸🇺🇦 (@BasilSeggos) September 8, 2021
A spokesperson for the DEC denied WSKG’s request for an interview with Seggos on the Greenidge permits.
Though the Greenidge facility has drawn the attention of environmental groups since it was approved to conversation from coal-firing to natural gas in 2016, the controversy has now tied itself to the legal fortitude of the CLCPA.
"All eyes are on what happens with this particular facility,” Liz Moran, New York Policy Director for EarthJustice, an advocacy group, told WSKG. “Will it be allowed to move forward? Will it be seen as being in alignment with our climate goals?”
Moran also pointed out that the Greenidge case is one of the first instances of CLCPA being called into question on the renewal of an existing air pollution permit instead of a new permits as was seen with the proposed Danskammer and Astoria power plants.
Roger Downs, Conservation Director of the Sierra Club’s Atlantic Chapter, compares the Greenidge renewal with the state’s handling of natural gas fracking just over a decade ago.
“I think this is a very analogous situation and I think the DEC is exploring all the tendrils of their legal ability to put a halt on this activity until they can study it and its full impacts and the come up with the regulatory program to either allow it or disallow certain aspects of it," Downs said in an interview.
Downs and Moran both support a statewide moratorium on proof-of-work cryptocurrency mining, as has been proposed by Ithaca Assemblymember Anna Kelles (D-125). Assembly leaders failed to take up Kelles’ legislation as this year’s legislative session drew to a close after the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers voiced its opposition to the moratorium.
A spokesman for Greenidge Generation denied WSKG’s request for an interview, but maintained that it believes its permits should be renewed and the facility is in compliance with the climate law.
“We embrace the important goals of the CLCPA,” the Greenidge spokesman wrote in part of a statement provided to WSKG after the DEC hearings were announced. “Our current onsite and upstream potential CO2e emissions are already substantially lower than the facility’s actual emissions in 1990, due to the step we took in partnership with the State to eliminate coal-fired operations.”
The registration period to participate in Wednesday’s hearings has closed, but written public comment is being accepted until Oct. 22.