Democratic lawmakers in the United States are pressing the country’s Bitcoin mining companies to disclose how much electricity they use in this practice in an effort to assess how that will affect residents of nearby areas and the environment. Eight members of Congress have sent letters to six Bitcoin mining companies asking them about the energy and environmental impact of their operations.
An ecological and environmental crime
Given the extraordinarily high energy use and carbon emissions associated with Bitcoin mining, mining operations raise concerns about their impacts on the global environment, local ecosystems, and consumer electricity costs.
The congressmen involved in this initiative asked the companies to answer several questions about how much electricity they use, where it comes from and how they plan to grow in the United States. This comes on the heels of an oversight hearing on the impact of cryptocurrency mining on energy held by the House Energy and Commerce Committee just a few weeks ago. During the hearing, experts and lawmakers debated whether cryptocurrencies could play a significant role in promoting renewable energy or derail America’s climate goals altogether.
Could scupper climate goals
The mining of certain cryptocurrencies, most notably Bitcoin, consumes enormous amounts of energy. If Bitcoin were a country, it would rank 27th for its electricity consumption, using more energy than all of Ukraine in a single year. If that electricity is generated from fossil fuels, it adds a lot of pollution, something that would add to the global climate crisis.
The reason Bitcoin uses so much electricity is that it relies on an energy-intensive process called proof-of-work to keep the blockchain technology it uses to encrypt and conduct cryptocurrency transactions secure. It requires miners to use specialized computer equipment to solve increasingly complex puzzles in order to verify transactions. The miners are in turn rewarded with new coins.
The proof-of-work system, which is intentionally energy-inefficient, is what worries some lawmakers and many environmental experts. Different processes use only a fraction of the energy required for proof of work. In the United States, miners’ hunger for energy has already revived aging coal and natural gas plants. For example, one of the companies that received one of the lawmakers’ letters bought two Pennsylvania power plants that now burn coal waste primarily to mine Bitcoin.
The company claims on its website that by burning coal waste, it is helping to clean up areas that have been devastated by its presence. But once burned, the waste pollutes the air and overheats the planet, contributing to increasing and worsening the climate crisis around the world.