Mining cryptocurrency uses a 'disturbing' amount of energy, lawmakers say

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A group of U.S. Senators are raising concerns about the environmental impacts of cryptomining and are asking the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy (DOE) to work together to require cryptominers to report their emissions and energy use.

“The results of our investigation… are disturbing… revealing that cryptominers are large energy users that account for a significant – and rapidly growing – amount of carbon emissions. Our investigation suggests that the overall U.S. cryptomining industry is likely to be problematic for energy and emissions,” wrote Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Edward J. Markey (D-MA.), Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Representatives Jared Huffman (D-CA) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI.) 

“But little is known about the full scope of cryptomining activity. Given these concerns, it is imperative that your agencies work together to address the lack of information about cryptomining’s energy use and environmental impacts, and use all available authorities at your disposal…  to require reporting of energy use and emissions from cryptominers,” wrote the lawmakers.”

Cryptomining requires a lot of energy

Connecting cryptocurrency to energy usage is a difficult thing for most people to wrap their heads around. After all, most people just think of buying and selling cryptocurrencies on a phone or computer.

However, cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin have a massive carbon footprint and require a lot of energy to produce. Bitcoin’s method of verifying transactions requires a sea of computers to solve complex mathematical problems, and those computers need energy to drive those processes.

The senators noted that the total annual global electricity consumption associated with the two largest cryptocurrencies – Bitcoin and Ethereum – is comparable to the electrical usage of the entire United Kingdom for one year. Findings show that these mining activities resulted in almost 80 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2021.

All of this cryptomining activity directly impacts how much consumers pay for electricity. According to a recent study, “the power demands of cryptocurrency mining operations in upstate New York push up annual electric bills by about $165 million for small businesses and $79 million for individuals.”

The senators aren’t giving the DOE and EPA much time to come up with some answers to this issue. The agencies have until August 15 to lay out their plans on how they will require reporting about cryptomining’s energy use and environmental impact. Agency officials will also have to answer a series of questions about their collective ability to monitor the situation going forward.