This isn’t the summer when Americans want to deal with an unknown number of cryptocurrency firms unexpectedly flooding the power grid. Other Americans are already expecting experience rolling power outages as the country’s power grid is strained due to record heat and drought and is currently driving up energy consumption from coast to coast. Now lawmakers are concerned that the US cryptocurrency mining operations, geared for rapid growth, may further destabilize the grid while driving up carbon emissions and driving up utility costs for more and more consumers.
Because of this, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) joined five other members of Congress to submit a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, and recommends agencies join forces to draft new regulations mandating emissions and energy use reporting for all cryptomining operations across the country. Only then, Warren and others suggest, will we know exactly how many companies are operating in the US, how much energy is being used, how much environmental damage is being done, and how many communities are affected.
The letter provided the EPA and DOE with new information from the Congressional investigation into the environmental impacts of “seven of the largest crypto mining operations in the United States.” It’s only a fraction of the whole, but together these companies plan to increase their total mining capacity by almost 230 percent, which will require more electricity than is used to power every home in Los Angeles. Neither company said it was tracking the impact on consumers connected to power grids, and neither company seemed to think there was any reason to fully comply with Congress’ request for information.
“None of the companies provided full and complete information in response to our questions,” Warren said et al. wrote. “But the information they are providing shows that the mining operations of these companies are significant and growing, have a major impact on climate change and that federal intervention is needed.”
Only three companies shared data on greenhouse gas emissions, but the pattern revealed by the limited dataset was worrying for members of Congress: “Just these three companies, who provided clear emissions data, are currently responsible for about 1.6 million tonnes of tonnes emitted annually, which equates to almost 360,000 cars – and these numbers will only increase in the years to come.”
labyrinth et al. have given authorities until August 15 to review their power to enforce cryptomine reporting. They suggested that some reports, like emissions data, could be mandated by existing laws like the Clean Air Act.
Impact on consumer electricity bills
After China banned cryptomining last fall, the US became the prime destination for corporate relocations. In recent years, members of Congress say in the letter, the US has dedicated “more than a third of the world’s computing power to mining Bitcoin” (the most popular cryptocurrency). As more companies move to the United States, Warren et al. said people who live and do business near these companies are already paying higher operating costs.
The largest example is from Plattsburgh, New York. Members of Congress described a report detailing “residential utility bills that were ‘up to $300 higher than usual’ in winter 2018.” In this case, New York responded to growing concerns by enacting the first US moratorium on new cryptomining operations. labyrinth et al. are not pushing for a nationwide ban like the one in China, but citing a study by the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, which shows the scale of the problem and the implications for other areas affected by future growth: “The Power requirements of cryptocurrency mining operations in upstate New York add approximately $165 million to annual utility bills for small businesses and $79 million for individuals.
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