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Environmental regulator says Bitcoin mining plant permit renewal still facing 'uphill battle'

Seggos Crypto WEB

VESTAL, NY (WSKG) — The head of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation continues to cast doubt on whether a controversial cryptocurrency mining operation and power plant in the Finger Lakes will meet the regulator’s standards to renew its permits.

DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos told WSKG that he continues to have “significant concerns” whether Greenidge Generation’s operations will be compliant with the state’s statutory climate goals under the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, or CLCPA.

Environmental activists and some politicians criticized the DEC’s move to extend its time frame for considering Greenidge’s air pollution permit renewal application last month, but Seggos said the extension was only fair. 

“We owe it to the applicant to review what they submitted to us, take a deep dive into that,” Seggos said. “If in fact that shows the ability to comply, then maybe we'll have a second impression as to whether or not they could comply with the law. But our belief still stands that this is a facility that's going to have an uphill battle complying with the law."

In September, the DEC announced that Greenidge’s application to renew its air pollution permits did not yet demonstrate compliance with the CLCPA targets, which include making the energy generation sector zero-emission by 2040. Following several public hearings and a public comment period over the application, the DEC was supposed to render a decision by March 31. The department pushed back that date to June 31.

Just prior to the March deadline, Greenidge proposed additional measures to its permit application to prove that the facility would be in compliance with the CLCPA. This includes a promise to make the plant zero-carbon emitting by 2035.

"Greenidge fully complies with the state’s strong environmental standards today and, based upon the facts and the law, this permit renewal poses no impediment to New York meeting its statewide GHG emissions reduction targets in 2030 or beyond,” a Greenidge spokesperson wrote in a statement to WSKG.

Seggos said DEC staff are reviewing Greenidge’s new proposal, including the feasibility of its promise to make the plant zero-carbon emitting.

“I appreciate the ambition, but we want to see what the science says, what the facts say on the application and ultimately we'll make a determination on that and that alone,” Seggos said.

Environmental activists including Yvonne Taylor, Vice President of Seneca Lake Guardian, allege the DEC’s move to delay issuing a decision on Greenidge’s permits was politically motivated given that the June 31 deadline now falls shortly after statewide primary elections.

"There is a cost to political cowardice,” Taylor said, calling out New York Gov. Kathy Hochul. “Governor Hochul and all of us will suffer the consequences of this non-decision. Since Governor Hochul has completely abdicated her responsibility to New Yorkers, we're now counting on the state Legislature to do the right thing. They have to take the lead and put a moratorium on the dangerous 'proof of work' crypto-mining industry."

Legislation to implement a three-year moratorium on cryptocurrency mining, such as Greenidge’s Bitcoin mining operation, is being pushed in the state Legislature by environmental groups. Ithaca Assemblymember Anna Kelles (D-125) introduced the first iteration of the moratorium last year, after Greenidge’s plans to expand its Bitcoin mining capacity were approved.

Kelles’ bill failed to pass through the state Assembly last year, largely due to opposition from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, a union.

Asked by WSKG about the moratorium legislation at an event in December, Hochul said she was still weighing the issue.

"It's something that we're working on with our environmental team, but also making sure that we don't miss an opportunity to create a new industry here in New York state, so we got to strike the right balance. We're working on it,” Hochul said.

Should the DEC deny Greenidge’s permits, it would mark the first time the agency prevented a renewal based on the CLCPA goals. Last year, the department set a similar precedent when it denied applications for the Astoria and Danskammer natural gas power plants, but those were new proposals.

Last year, the DEC began formalizing its internal policy on how to judge whether a renewal proposal complies with the CLCPA. Under the draft language a facility would not be compliant with the CLCPA if it creates a new significant source of greenhouse gas emissions or significantly increases demand for greenhouse gas emissions.

“The goal is to put something out final that will help guide the way we approach permits here in New York,” Seggos said. “You know, our goal is to be as aggressive as possible. The CLCPA is an important law. The DEC's charged with enforcing it and we want to expand it as far as we can to address the kinds of permits that are coming in front us."

Seggos said he wants to implement the new guidance this summer.

Vaughn Golden has been reporting across New York since 2016. Working as a freelancer while studying journalism and economics at Ithaca College, Vaughn has reported for a number of outlets including the Albany Times Union, New York Post, and NPR among others. Prior to coming to WSKG full-time, Vaughn was a reporter for the Watertown Daily Times. Vaughn now covers government and politics for WSKG.