President Joe Biden delivers remarks in the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on July 15, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

50+ Groups Challenge Biden to Rein In 'Climate-Killing Cryptomining'

"Outside speculators are invading our communities to destroy our natural resources, kneecap local businesses, and keep us from meeting crucial climate goals, just to make a few people very, very rich," said one New Yorker. "The federal government must step in."

More than 50 progressive organizations on Monday urged the Biden administration to use its regulatory power to slash the massive amounts of greenhouse gas pollution associated with electricity-intensive digital currencies that are created through "proof-of-work" mining, such as Bitcoin.

"Expanding coal and gas plants to make fake money in the middle of a climate crisis is literally insane."

A coalition led by Environmental Working Group (EWG), Earthjustice, and Greenpeace USA submitted comments to the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy, which requested public feedback on the energy impacts of cryptomining after President Joe Biden in March issued an executive order on "ensuring responsible development of digital assets."

The coalition wrote:

Digital currencies that rely on "proof-of-work" to validate transactions undermine your efforts to promote energy-efficiency and to reduce climate pollution and will instead use more and more electricity and generate more and more climate pollution. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned in April, digital currencies like Bitcoin are likely to "be a major global source of CO2 if the electricity production is not decarbonized."

Unlike vehicles or manufacturers subject to energy-efficiency standards or pollution limits, miners of digital currencies that rely upon proof-of-work are not required to use energy more efficiently or to power their mining operations with renewable energy and have little incentive to do so. Instead, miners can and increasingly do rely upon fossil fuel energy sources to generate and use more and more electricity. Digital currencies like Bitcoin also generate significant amounts of electronic waste and are contributing to supply-chain challenges in the semiconductor industry.

We urge you to use the administration's regulatory tools to curb the electricity use and climate pollution associated with digital currencies that rely on "proof-of-work" and to work with legislators to address the energy and climate impacts of digital currencies. In particular, we urge you to subject permits related to cryptocurrency mining to stringent environmental reviews, to create a registry of mining operations, to set energy-efficiency standards for digital currencies, to establish power density limits, and to limit financial transactions which increase climate pollution, interrupt critical supply chains, or limit the availability and affordability of electricity for essential industries.

"Proof-of-work" refers to the use of "powerful computers to solve complex puzzles to generate new cryptocurrency," the coalition explained. "Once puzzles are solved, new cryptocurrency coins are added to the blockchain. Deploying powerful computers to solve complex puzzles uses growing amounts of electricity."

Bitcoin--by far the most polluting digital currency--is generated through "proof-of-work" mining rather than less energy-intensive methods such as "proof-of-stake." In 2020 alone, the electricity used to mine Bitcoin resulted in nearly 60 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions, according to one estimate.

The carbon dioxide emissions from mining Bitcoin and Ethereum in 2021 were equivalent to the tailpipe emissions of more than 15 million gas-powered cars. Ethereum, the world's second-largest cryptocurrency, estimates that switching from "proof-of-work" to "proof-of-stake" would reduce the electricity use of its digital currency by 99.95%.

Bitcoin mining now consumes "more electricity than what is used by countries like Sweden and Poland, and more electricity than Americans use to power our lights and televisions," the coalition noted, citing experts from the University of Cambridge.

"As the price of cryptocurrency increases, the incentive to use more and more powerful computers grows--as does the amount of electricity these computers consume," wrote the coalition. "The development of mining 'pools' has created an 'arms race' that has significantly increased electricity consumption. As computing power increases, the Bitcoin protocol adjusts to make the puzzle more difficult to solve--using more and more electricity. Increasing demand for electricity is a feature of Bitcoin, not a bug."

If current trends continue for the next five years, the groups added, "Bitcoin could use as much electricity as Japan and India combined."

The coalition's comments came on the same day the United Nations warned that Earth now faces a 50% chance of temporarily hitting 1.5degC of warming above pre-industrial levels by 2026. In 2015, by contrast, the probability of briefly reaching or exceeding 1.5degC of warming over the ensuing five-year period was estimated to be "close to zero."

Global temperature rise in excess of 1.5degC is associated with increasingly catastrophic consequences--especially for the world's poorest people, who have done the least to cause the crisis--making the elimination of cryptomining emissions a key aspect of the life-and-death struggle for a habitable planet.

"The 'currency of the future' is dragging us back into the past when it comes to saving the planet from climate change--and at a critical period of breakthrough progress to replace dirty, financially sketchy power sources like coal, fracked gas, and nuclear with cheaper, cleaner renewables like wind and solar," EWG president Ken Cook said Monday in a statement.

"It's time the Biden administration take substantive measures to rein in this industry that refuses to acknowledge its growing contribution to the climate crisis," he added.

On Tuesday, people from communities across the United States that are threatened by cryptomining gathered for the first time to demand local and federal regulation. Residents from Georgia, Kentucky, New York, Pennslyvania, South Carolina, Texas, and West Virginia shared information about how the process is "wreaking havoc" locally and globally.

"In the Finger Lakes and across New York, outside speculators are invading our communities to destroy our natural resources, kneecap local businesses, and keep us from meeting crucial climate goals, just to make a few people very, very rich," Yvonne Taylor from Seneca Lake Guardian said in a statement released ahead of the meeting.

"While we wait for Governor Hochul to enact sane energy policy and put a moratorium on climate-killing cryptomining, the federal government must step in and regulate this dangerous and growing industry," Taylor added. "Repowering or expanding coal and gas plants to make fake money in the middle of a climate crisis is literally insane."

Abi Buddington from the Committee to Preserve the Finger Lakes explained how her community is being harmed by pollution from a once-shuttered fossil fuel plant that was reopened to generate power for Bitcoin mining.

"It's jeopardizing our health, our air, our water, and hurting our thriving agriculture and tourism economy," said Buddington. "This is an extremely urgent issue at a time when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that it is now or never to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to avoid the most dire consequences of climate change."

"We must not let this industry set us back, despite the millions of dollars they're investing to remain unregulated," Buddington added. "We are urging the Biden administration to take swift action and adopt policies that take a hard and fast approach to this energy-intensive industry."

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