WASHINGTON – The Environmental Working Group today applauded Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) for introducing legislation to require more reporting and analysis of the climate and energy impacts of cryptocurrency mining, and to set mining energy efficiency standards.
Bitcoin, the world’s largest cryptocurrency, uses proof of work, a type of cryptocurrency mining that requires huge amounts of electricity, which is bad for the climate. “Digital currencies that rely on proof of work are wasteful by design,” said Scott Faber, EWG’s senior vice president for government affairs. “The incentives baked into digital assets like bitcoin demand more and more electricity – not less – at a time when all of us need to use electricity more efficiently.”
Some cryptocurrency mining operations are reviving shuttered dirty fossil fuel power plants to help meet their electricity needs. “It’s not just the climate that’s harmed by the growing electricity use of bitcoin mines. Local communities are also affected by increased air and water pollution when bitcoin mines revive or extend the life of fossil energy plants,” said Faber.
The Crypto-Asset Environmental Transparency Act would:
- Require cryptocurrency mining operations consuming more than 5 megawatts of power to report their carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act.
- Require the Environmental Protection Agency to lead a detailed interagency study of the environmental impacts of crypto-asset mining in the U.S.
- Amend the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 to include cryptocurrency mining facilities in the definition of data center buildings.
According to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, U.S. digital assets result in as much climate pollution as is caused by burning the diesel fuel used in our railroads. U.S.-based bitcoin miners are already responsible for one-quarter of the global greenhouse gas emissions caused by bitcoin mining. In 2021, the combined carbon dioxide emissions from mining bitcoin and ethereum, second only to bitcoin in the value of its stock, equaled the tailpipe emissions of more than 15 million gas-powered cars.
Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), chairwoman of the Senate agriculture committee, John Boozman (R-Ark.), the ranking member, and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) also introduced legislation over the summer that included a disclosure provision to increase transparency about how much and what type of power is used by energy-intensive digital assets like bitcoin.
Between 2017 and 2022, annual estimated electricity demand from bitcoin mining increased from 7 terawatt-hours, a measure of electricity, to more than 90 terawatt-hours. By contrast, electricity demand by comparable sectors has not increased – and has even declined in some. Data centers have not hiked their electricity demand, even though internet traffic and data center workloads have ramped up significantly as a result of cryptocurrency mining.
Cryptocurrency mining doesn’t need to waste electricity with proof of work. Much more energy-efficient processes exist, like proof of stake, which ethereum recently adopted.
“The recently completed ethereum merge and past code changes show that transformation by the bitcoin community is possible – the way we’ve all adapted to new ways of powering our homes and cars and how we grow our food,” Faber said. “Every industry, including the financial sector, can reduce its electricity use and greenhouse gas emissions. Adding more electricity demand – as proof of work mining will ultimately require – sends us in the wrong direction.
“Under current law, there is no requirement that proof of work mines be powered by renewable energy, be more energy efficient, or even report their energy use and climate pollution. But we need all the clean energy we can get to power our homes, cars and businesses. We should not divert clean energy to an inherently wasteful use of electricity.
“We’re at a crossroads. The merge shows what’s possible. The bitcoin community should follow ethereum’s lead. But legislators should not stand on the sidelines,” Faber added.
EWG has joined Greenpeace USA in launching a national campaign, Change the Code, Not the Climate, to shed light on the electricity and climate implications of bitcoin mining and its effect on our climate goals. Learn more about the campaign here.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.