Heard Around Town

Assembly Member Anna Kelles testified about the environmental impact of crypto-mining. Then her Twitter account was hacked.

The New York lawmaker has been a vocal opponent of energy-intensive mining for an unstable industry. Spammers from that industry took over her account Monday.

New York State Assembly Member Anna Kelles

New York State Assembly Member Anna Kelles Screenshot, Pennsylvania House of Representatives Testimony

Shortly after New York State Assembly Member Anna Kelles finished testifying to the Pennsylvania state Legislature about the environmental impacts of cryptocurrency mining on Monday morning, her Twitter account was hacked by cryptocurrency spammers.

“We reached a new ALL-TIME-HIGH! Get ready to receive free $PEPE tokens!” read a tweet posted to Kelles’ Twitter account. The tweet encouraged Kelles’ followers to purchase an obscure cryptocurrency called Pepecoin. The tweet received thousands of likes, making it much more popular than the Assembly member’s usual tweets.

Kelles does not think it’s a coincidence that her Twitter account was hacked to promote cryptocurrency at the exact same time that she was testifying about concerns with cryptocurrency mining. She sees the hack as a prank meant to retaliate against her criticism of the cryptocurrency industry.

“It was, I mean, flattering to think that I could get that many hits on my own, but I usually get at maybe the absolute most a couple of hundred. And this had 7000 within 45 minutes,” Kelles told City & State after regaining access to her account. “So it was just clearly set up with a bot to recirculate it and to have as much damage as possible. So, you know, it's pretty sick to me.”

She said she was particularly disgusted by the fact that the fake tweet was promoting a cryptocurrency based on the “Pepe” meme, which has been co-opted by white nationalists.

Kelles is probably the last state legislator you would expect to shill cryptocurrency. She has been an outspoken critic of the environmental harms of cryptocurrency mining and sponsored a bill last year that temporarily banned power plants from mining energy-intensive cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.

Her advocacy against energy-intensive cryptocurrency mining has attracted attention outside of New York. In March, she testified at a U.S. Senate hearing about Bitcoin mining and greenhouse gas emissions. On Monday, she testified remotely as an expert witness at a hearing on cryptocurrency and climate change held by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives’ Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.

The hearing concerned Pennsylvania’s subsidies to the cryptocurrency industry, which has taken advantage of tax incentives that encourage the burning of coal waste, a byproduct of coal power plants. Because piles of coal waste can leach into groundwater if left alone, the state incentivizes burning it.

“They subsidize companies to use the coal waste because they have these massive piles,” she explained. “So their thought is, ‘Well, we should use it up because it is creating ground pollution into our water.’ And they've got like over 800 piles of coal waste in the state.”

Pennsylvania currently offers tax breaks of up to $20 million to power plants that burn coal waste to generate electricity, paying $4 per ton of coal waste burned.

But Kelles said that burning coal waste can actually be counterproductive – since it causes more air pollution and produces coal ash, which can still leach into groundwater.

“The craziest thing is that you could have 100 tons of coal waste, you'll end up with 85 tons of coal ash. And because coal ash, the particulate matter has more surface area, you're gonna have significantly more leaching from the coal ash than you do the coal waste to begin with. You’re going to have a worse problem,” she said. 

“Just because they're using (the coal waste), so they can't physically see it, doesn't mean that the pollution goes away!” she added.

Recently, some coal waste power plants have started using the electricity they generate to mine Bitcoin – similar to Greenidge Generation, the upstate New York gas-fired power plant with its own Bitcoin-mining operation. That has concerned Pennsylvania legislators who don’t think the state should be subsidizing private Bitcoin mining operations.

In her Zoom hearing before the Pennsylvania House, Kelles said that she believes cryptocurrency mining companies should not be eligible for Pennsylvania state subsidies because they do not benefit Pennsylvanians.

“If you gave the entire state information and you had them choose if that's what they wanted their taxpayer money to go to, rather than education and child care and senior care, nursing homes, Medicaid, food stamps, food programs for children, or cryptocurrency mining companies, … which one would you rather spend your taxpayer money on?” she asked.

After answering questions from Pennsylvania lawmakers, Kelles logged off from the hearing around 11 a.m. Minutes later, she began receiving messages from supporters saying that her Twitter account had been hacked. She soon regained control of the account, only for Twitter to suspend it in response to the hack. She is now contesting the suspension.

“One of my staff people said, ‘the fragility of (the scammers’) egos are as big as the environmental impact of cryptocurrency mining,’” she said. “I think that pretty much sums it up.”