Lawmakers Ask Energy, EPA to Investigate Cryptomining’s Environmental Impact

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As Congress looks to regulate the industry, cryptomining companies say renewable energy is already in play. 

Several Democrat lawmakers requested on Friday that federal agencies conduct deeper oversight into the environmental impacts of digital currency mining, particularly focusing on the energy consumption and emissions volume.

Writing to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and Michael Regan, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, lawmakers cited their own recent investigation into cryptomining operations as a harbinger for greater federal regulation in the flourishing digital asset sector.

“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,” reads the letter, cosigned by Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich. “Our investigation suggests that the overall U.S. cryptomining industry is likely to be problematic for energy and emissions.”

Despite volatile fluctuations in value, the market for cryptocurrencies has boomed over the years, prompting the federal government to regulate the highly-speculative digital asset class. 

The letter urges the Department of Energy and the EPA to work in tandem to study cryptocurrency mining’s energy usage and consumption as well as the emissions it generates. More analyses on cryptocurrency carbon emissions can better inform future policy decisions on regulations. 

In earlier instances, Warren and a similar Democratic cohort sent letters to large cryptomining companies directly asking for broader environmental impact reports. Seven firms responded with details about their electricity consumption and operations.

Two companies, specifically Marathon Digital Holdings and Bit Digital, cited a statistic claiming that bitcoin mining only consumes 0.14 percent of the global energy supply and, along with other companies, cited the regular use of reusable energy in its plant operations. 

“We believe that both industry and policymakers must continue to develop technologies and policies that address the dangers of climate change,” one company, Riot Blockchain, wrote in its response. “Bitcoin mining is uniquely beneficial and supportive of renewable energy generation and resilient power grids. This fact, along with the technological advancement, job creation and social and economic value that Bitcoin mining is creating—right here in the United States—means that the industry currently is, and must be, a part of the solution.”

Experts say that the cryptocurrency industry is interested in sustainability and has already introduced several initiatives to incorporate renewable energy into its operations.

Clark Flynt-Barr, a senior policy advisor at Chainalysis, told Nextgov that more data on energy consumption and its climate impact is needed to help Congress accurately tailor new policies.

“We appreciate that members of Congress are working to better understand this technology and that they are taking a data-based approach to policy making,” she said. “The cryptocurrency industry shares concerns about the environmental impact of cryptocurrency mining. This is underscored by the responses these members received from mining companies highlighting their efforts to use sustainable energy sources in their mining operations.”

Flynt-Barr added that Congress could help the cryptocurrency industry become greener by enacting policies to make renewable energy sources more easily available in the U.S. and consider tax incentives for miners adopting renewable resources.