WASHINGTON – Electricity-intensive mining of the cryptocurrency bitcoin harms communities across the U.S. with air, climate, waste, water and noise pollution, a new Environmental Working Group investigation finds.
Bitcoin mining uses a power-hungry computing method known as “proof of work” – a process that is inherently wasteful because of the huge amounts of energy needed for it to succeed.
The new report features interviews with residents, environmental advocates and others in six states, revealing the widespread blight bitcoin mining inflicts in their backyards. In Georgia or North Carolina, noise pollution ruins homeowners’ quality of life. In Montana and Kentucky, carbon and other emissions impair air quality. In Pennsylvania, dirty coal waste powers bitcoin mining operations, and in New York, bitcoin mining relies on a natural gas plant critics say is contaminating their water and air.
“This report vividly shows how proof of work crypto-mining operations are contributing to increased air, water and noise pollution in many communities across the U.S.,” said EWG Policy Director and report co-author Jessica Hernandez.
“It amplifies the voices of those who are fighting to save their homes and livelihoods from the bitcoin mines invading their communities,” Hernandez said. “The industry cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the real-world harm it is causing or greenwash the problem away.”
EWG’s report bolsters its calls to “change the code, not the climate” and to encourage the bitcoin community to self-innovate away from proof of work to another mining process that doesn’t create these problems. Change is possible, as demonstrated when ethereum – the world’s second largest cryptocurrency – switched to “proof of stake” last year, another way of mining that requires about 99 percent less electricity than proof of work.
Major banks and other institutions that are investing in bitcoin can also play a part, using their financial decision-making to help encourage changes in mining practices. For example, if Fidelity Investments, which has been mining bitcoin since 2014, dropped support for proof of work, it would have a sizable impact on the push for cleaner cryptocurrency mining.
“Speaking with people around the country has been eye-opening in revealing the extent of the problems that bitcoin mines are causing in communities,” said EWG Editor in Chief and report co-author Anthony Lacey. “It’s hard to learn of these stories and not ask why bitcoin miners can’t change their code to be better neighbors.”
EWG’s report offers a human interest view of the problems bitcoin mining foists on communities throughout the U.S., following a landmark report released by Earthjustice and Sierra Club last year that focused on the technical aspects of the industry’s negative impacts.
EWG and Greenpeace USA launched a national campaign, Change the Code, Not the Climate, in March of 2022 to shed light on the electricity and climate implications of bitcoin mining and its effect on U.S. climate goals. Learn more about the campaign here.
The Environmental Working Group 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. Visit www.ewg.org for more information.