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Climate

Why Hasn’t Governor Hochul Signed the Crypto Mining Moratorium?

After a campaign flush with donations from disgraced crypto kingpins, a bill to ban polluting cryptomining sits on the governor’s desk.

1:19 PM EST on November 15, 2022

Governor Kathy Hochul speaks at a podium with her arms outstretched.

(Kevin P. Coughlin / Office of Governor Kathy Hochul)

It’s been a bad month to be in bed with cryptocurrency, with a major exchange collapsing overnight, several of its major proponents not even disclosing their location, and the prospect of even further fallout in the deeply turbulent industry. But things weren’t always so dark for crypto magnates—just weeks ago, they were still flush enough with liquid capital to shower New York politicians with money. Part of the reason for their donations? The crypto industry was looking for lighter regulation, and specifically, to kill a bill that would cut down on crypto mining in New York state, one that crypto proponents worry may open the door to further restrictions.

Now we’re about to find out if their money still talks, or, like their digital wallets, if their influence all evaporated into the ether.

For five months now, a bill to place a moratorium on fossil fuel-powered crypto mining has sat on Governor Kathy Hochul’s desk, awaiting either her signature, or a veto. The bill, sent to her by the state legislature, is quite limited in scope—it would simply ban new "proof of work" cryptocurrency mining operations that run off of decommissioned fossil fuel plants for two years while the state’s Department of Environment Conservation studies its environmental impact process. Over the past few years, several bitcoin mining operations have popped up in upstate towns, leading to the firing up of shuttered power plants that spew carbon emissions into the atmosphere. 

On Tuesday, environmental advocates gathered in front of Hochul’s Midtown office, to demand she sign the moratorium. 

"There are places that have banned this type of mining, and New York is a supposed leader on these issues, and we’re not. And it can’t just be about how much money is going into people’s coffers," said Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, Hochul’s opponent in this summer’s Democratic primary. 

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams speaks in favor a Bitcoin mining moratorium in front of Gov. Kathy Hochul's midtown office. (Hell Gate)

In the run-up to her primary victory, Hochul accepted $40,000 from the CEO of a company with a cryptomining company upstate. Now-disgraced FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried’s super PAC spent up to $1 million to help out Hochul’s running mate Antonio Delgado, who was locked in a primary battle with immigrant rights activist Ana Maria Archila. 

"We cannot just sit idly by while we allow cryptomining bros to profit from the destruction of our planet, while there’s a piece of legislation that would give us the space to evaluate its impact," Archila said at Tuesday’s rally. 

The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation denied a permit earlier this year to Greenidge Generation, a natural-gas-fired plant in the Finger Lakes—but that plant remains open and is still mining cryptocurrencies, pending an appeal. The DEC found the plant violates the state’s climate law, but the proposed law still wouldn’t apply to it—as it only impacts new permit applications. 

With Bitcoin prices crashing, and the Ethereum cryptocurrency no longer requiring such energy-intensive processes to be “mined,” the days of freewheeling crypto mining might be nearly over, anyway. 

A spokesperson for the governor told Hell Gate that Hochul "is reviewing all pending legislation passed by the legislature in 2022," and that so far this year, the DEC has denied permits for three fossil fuel power plants, including Greenidge (the other two were not proposed to be involved in crypto mining). If Hochul does not sign the bill before 2023, it dies.

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