After passage of bitcoin mining moratorium, advocates push Hochul for action

The moratorium bill was revived to pass early Friday morning, despite aggressive lobbying by the crypto industry.

Cryptocurrency mining rigs.

Cryptocurrency mining rigs. James MacDonald/Bloomberg - Getty

A bitcoin mining moratorium is officially moving forward in New York. Early Friday morning, ahead of the end of the state legislative session, the state Senate passed a two-year moratorium on proof-of-work cryptocurrency mining – a particularly energy intensive method – at fossil fuel power plants. 

The legislation includes a study of the cryptocurrency mining industry and its environmental impacts in New York. The moratorium only targets new operations; existing sites or ones undergoing permit renewals are allowed to continue operating. And the moratorium doesn’t apply to mining sites that draw their energy from the grid or use renewable energy. It would instead keep the state from approving any new or renewed permits for fossil fuel burning plants being used to power behind-the-meter proof-of-work mining. The two-year moratorium is scaled back from a failed version of the bill last year that called for a three-year moratorium. 

But despite the relatively narrow scope of the moratorium, the legislation faced intense resistance from the cryptocurrency industry, with industry associations and cryptocurrency companies lobbying state lawmakers on the issue for months. “The capitol has been filled with cryptocurrency lobbyists on a daily basis,” Assembly Member Anna Kelles, who sponsored the bill with state Sen. Kevin Parker, said at a press conference on Friday. The conservative Club for Growth joined that blitz against the bill, spending $35,000 on texts and ads targeting Senate Democrats. The crypto industry argues that the moratorium will hinder job growth, though critics argue that jobs created by proof-of-work mining are a paltry number.

Though it looked earlier this week like the moratorium bill might die in the Senate, a last minute push – helped along by pressure from activists and supportive senators – led to its 36-27 passage early Friday. “This bill was dead over and over and over again over the last couple of days, and we pulled it out of the graveyard over and over and over again,” Kelles said. The bill’s passage comes amid a boom in mining sites across the state, with New York’s plentiful cheap power and abandoned factories and power plants attracting miners.

In Friday’s press conference celebrating the bitcoin mining moratorium’s last-minute passage, environmental advocates and Kelles stressed that the fight to curb the negative environmental effects of crypto mining isn’t over yet. They urged Gov. Kathy Hochul – who has been publicly quiet on the controversial issue – to not only sign the bill, but deny a permit renewal for a bitcoin mining site conducting behind-the-meter proof of work mining near Seneca Lake.

Advocates said that that mining operation, Greenidge Generation, would not be affected by the moratorium bill because it is an existing site. But it is undergoing a permit renewal process and could have its permit denied if the state finds that it is not in compliance with New York’s landmark 2019 climate law, the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.

The decision on Greenidge’s permit renewal application has been delayed several times by the state, with advocates accusing the most recent delay of being politically motivated, as a decision is now not due until after the Democratic primary for governor. Spokespeople for the state Department of Environmental Conservation have said that it was solely the department’s decision to extend the renewal deadline in order to review additional material from Greenidge.

“Governor Hochul needs to follow the legislature’s lead and deny Greenidge their air permit renewal,” Yvonne Taylor, vice president of Seneca Lake Guardian, said on Friday. “New Yorkers have sent a clear message to our governor: It’s unacceptable to refire old fossil fuel plants in the middle of a climate crisis, just to (mine) fake money to make a few rich people even richer.”

Representatives for Hochul did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday about whether the governor intended to sign the moratorium bill. In February, a spokesperson for the governor said in a statement that Hochul would review the legislation if it passes. 

Over the past few months, some advocates have expressed concern that Hochul is sympathetic to the mining industry’s interests. “We have to balance the protection of the environment, but also protect the opportunity for jobs that go to areas that don’t see a lot of activity and make sure that the energy that’s consumed by these entities is managed properly,” Hochul said last month. The governor also recently reported a $40,000 campaign donation from the chief executive of Coinmint, a bitcoin mining company doing proof-of-work mining in Massena.

Still, Kelles said on Friday that in conversations with the governor’s environmental staff, it’s clear “they very much recognize the concerns about the environmental impact,” of proof-of-work bitcoin mining. “I’m very optimistic,” Kelles said.