Biden Administration Must Rein In Electricity-Intensive Cryptocurrency Mining to Meet Climate Goals

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Environmental organizations led by Greenpeace USA, Environmental Working Group and Earthjustice filed comments Monday with the White House, urging the Biden administration to act to reduce the greenhouse emissions associated with electricity-intensive digital currencies using “proof of work,” such as bitcoin.

Experts at the University of Cambridge estimate bitcoin mining now consumes more electricity than Americans use to power our lights and televisions, and more than the entire countries of Poland and Sweden use in a year. Reining in emissions from crypto mining will be vital if we are to meet the administration’s goals for fighting the climate crisis.

The electricity used to mine bitcoin in 2020 resulted in almost 60 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions, according to one estimate by a leading cryptocurrency industry analyst group. That’s far more than any other digital currency. The carbon dioxide emissions from mining ethereum and bitcoin, the two biggest cryptocurrencies, equaled the tailpipe emissions of more than 15 million gas-powered cars.

“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,” the groups write in their comments to the White House Office of Science Technology and Policy, in response to a request for input.

Proof of work is the process of using powerful computers to solve complex puzzles to generate new cryptocurrency. The amount of electricity needed for proof of work is much greater than that required by more energy-efficient methods, such as “proof of stake.”

“[W]e urge you to subject permits related to cryptocurrency mining to stringent environmental review, create a registry of mining operations, set energy efficiency standards for digital currencies, establish power density limits, and limit financial transactions that increase climate pollution, interrupt critical supply chains, or limit the availability and affordability of electricity for essential industries,” the comments say.

Unlike the automobile and manufacturing industries, cryptocurrency miners that rely on proof of work are not subject to any state or federal energy efficiency standards or pollution limits, so they have little incentive to use renewable sources of electricity.

The groups urge the Biden administration to consider a suite of measures that could rein in cryptocurrency miners that use proof of work and fossil fuels to power their operations, including tough environmental and energy-efficiency standards and more requirements to report on their electricity use.

“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,” said EWG President Ken Cook.

“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,” Cook said.

“To tackle our climate crisis, we must rapidly phase out fossil fuels, and we need cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin to help, not hinder that effort. Denial, excuses or partial solutions are getting in the way of progress. Now is the time for government officials, businesses and crypto enthusiasts to develop real solutions to Bitcoin’s skyrocketing electricity consumption and climate impacts” said Rolf Skar, Special Projects Manager at Greenpeace USA.

League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, Seneca Lake Guardian and Milwaukee Riverkeeper also joined the comments.