Democrats probe of crypto mining energy use ‘disturbing’

Congressional Democrats probing the crypto mining industry’s carbon footprint have found what’s been clear for awhile: The industry is a massive energy hog that threatens U.S. climate goals. Now, those Democrats are asking the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy to do something about it.

Six Democrats from both the House and Senate asked seven major crypto mining companies for details about their energy use. The results showed that just six of those companies are together responsible for consuming a Houston-sized chunk of electricity. All told, the operations require 1,045 megawatts of power to stay up and running. (The only company not to respond with its energy use totals was Bitfury.)

Many of those companies are also planning expansions. Riot’s Whinstone facility in Rockdale, Texas, consumes 350 megawatts of electricity, though it expects to reach 700 megawatts of mining capacity by the end of this year. The Greenidge mine in Upstate New York has 50 megawatts of capacity, but it wanted to grow to 500 megawatts by 2025. Its air pollution permit renewal, though, was recently denied. The report found that all told, the companies covered by the investigation want to add 2,399 megawatts of mining capacity “in the next few years,” a total that’s greater than the electricity needs of Los Angeles’ 1.4 million households.

“The results of our investigation, which gathered data from just seven companies, are disturbing, with this limited data alone revealing that cryptominers are large energy users that account for a significant — and rapidly growing — amount of carbon emissions,” the group of lawmakers wrote in a letter to the heads of the EPA and DOE.

Right now, there are no federal laws and few state or local ones governing crypto mining’s energy use. But as the U.S. tries to get a handle on carbon emissions and meet President Joe Biden’s goal of cutting carbon emissions in half by 2030, some form of oversight of the burgeoning industry is vital.

The group of Democrats — which includes Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Ed Markey, Sheldon Whitehouse and Jeff Merkley, and Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Jared Huffman — called for the EPA and DOE to use the Clean Air Act to prompt disclosures from mining operations about their energy use and carbon emissions as a first step.

The U.S. became a crypto mining hub after China banned the practice in 2021. The lawmakers’ investigation and request for regulations would be first steps toward getting future laws on the books to address the industry’s emissions. But the U.S. — and the world — needs to get a handle on carbon emissions sooner rather than later. And as the migration of mining operations makes clear, it will take more than one country putting a law on the books to get crypto’s carbon footprint under control.

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