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Finger Lakes Assemblywoman pushes cryptocurrency bills as state legislative session nears end

Vaughn Golden
Protestors gather outside the Greenidge Generation Facility in Torrey, NY before the facility’s Bitcoin mining expansion was approved";

A bill to temporarily halt cryptocurrency mining in New York is still in committee as the legislative session in Albany comes to a close, despite bipartisan support for state action among local lawmakers in the Finger Lakes.

The bill’s sponsor, Assemblymember Anna Kelles (D-Ithaca), introduced the moratorium following the approval of an expanded Bitcoin mining operation at the Greenidge Generation power plant along Seneca Lake in Yates County.

On Tuesday, the Tompkins County Legislature unanimously approved a resolution supporting Kelles’ moratorium bill. Legislator Mike Sigler, one of only three Republicans on the body, said he still had questions about Kelles’ proposal, but supported her position on cryptocurrency mining.

“I don’t believe that we should use a precious resource like natural gas to turn it into bitcoin, because that’s really what you’re doing,” Sigler said. “You’re trading natural gas for Bitcoin and it’s the same idea with renewables.”

Last month, the Schuyler County Legislature also passed a resolution calling on the state to craft rules or guidance around cryptocurrency mining. The Greenidge Plant is located just north of Schuyler County, and shares Seneca Lake with the facility. The legislature consists of seven Republicans and one Democrat. The resolution passed unanimously.

“We were approached about this issue by our environmental management council with a different angle in the beginning strictly about the Greenidge development,” Mark Rondinaro, who sponsored Schuyler’s resolution, said in April. “And looking at the resolution that was presented I looked and said ‘well this is a much bigger issue here than just a particular project.’”

Originally, Kelles’ moratorium bill was referred to the Assembly Banks committee, which traditionally handles legislation related to financial technology and assets like cryptocurrency. The Banks Committee is also home to several lawmakers who have introduced measures supporting development of cryptocurrency, including Queens Democratic Assemblyman Clyde Vanel.

Vanel sponsors a bill to “study the potential designation of economic empowerment zones for the mining of cryptocurrencies” in New York as well as another that would allow state agencies to accept payments in the form of cryptocurrency. After saying the assemblyman had an availability to speak with on Wednesday, Vanel’s office failed to confirm that availability. It has not responded to any inquiry since.

Other state lawmakers also did not return requests for an interview, including the bill’s senate sponsor,  Sen. Kevin Parker (D-Brooklyn).

Finger Lakes Republican Sen. Tom O’Mara, who represents both Schuyler and Tompkins Counties, also did not respond to multiple interview requests.

Last week, the moratorium bill was moved out of banks to the Environmental Conservation Committee which is chaired by Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Long Island), who is one of the lead cosponsors of the legislation.

Kelles said it will still need to be reviewed and moved forward by committee staff, but she has not heard any direct opposition to the moratorium from other members. She said most of her effort has been on educating other members about cryptocurrency and its environmental impacts.

“So that’s the challenge,” Kelles said. “Getting people up to speed; what it is and why it’s impactful on the environment. And once people get it, you can see the comparison. You can hear like literally the lightbulb turn on.”

As of Thursday evening, the bill had not moved out of committee, giving it a smaller window to move through the legislative process if the chamber ends its session on June 10 as scheduled.

While the moratorium bill may languish until next year’s legislative session, a separate piece of legislation by Kelles could possibly come up for a final vote as soon as Monday.

That legislation technically does not make mention of cryptocurrency, but appears to target power plants, like the Greenidge facility, that could be revived to house large-scale mining operations. It was also introduced around the same time as the moratorium measure.

The bill would require a power plant that received air or water permits prior to 2012 to seek new permits if they transfer ownership or go out of service. The plant could also not utilize fossil fuels for electricity or other industrial purposes.

The formerly coal-fired power plant now home to Greenidge had been shut down in 2011. It was bought by Greenidge’s parent company, Atlas Holdings, in 2014 and later converted to burn natural gas and supply energy to the grid in times of peak demand.

Earlier this year, Digihost, a subsidiary of a Canadian firm focused on cryptocurrency mining proposed a purchase of a 55MW natural gas power plant in North Tonawanda. The Public Service Commission has yet to make a ruling allowing the sale to go forward.