Home Cryptocurrency Washington and Oregon may regulate the wild West of crypto mining

Washington and Oregon may regulate the wild West of crypto mining

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Crypto industry advocates such as the Blockchain Association criticized the Biden administration’s reports, calling them a “missed opportunity” that disproportionately focused on the risks associated with the industry without providing solutions to improve access and security. 

In response to the White House findings, U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., introduced the Crypto-Asset Environmental Transparency Act in December. U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, is a co-sponsor.

The bill would require the Environmental Protection Agency to conduct a comprehensive impact study of U.S. crypto mining activity and require crypto mining operations that use more than 5 megawatts of power to report their greenhouse-gas emissions.

Oregon and Washington, meanwhile, are working to ensure crypto mining operations eventually won’t be able to buy power from nonrenewable sources to meet their energy demands.

Oregon’s clean-energy targets require the state’s investor-owned utilities to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions to 80% below baseline emissions levels by 2030; 90% by 2035; and 100% by 2040.

Washington’s Clean Energy Transformation Act requires utilities to phase out coal-fired electricity from their state portfolios by 2025. By 2030, their portfolios must be greenhouse-gas-emissions neutral, allowing them to use limited amounts of electricity generated from natural gas as long as it is offset by other actions, such as renewable energy credits. By 2045, utilities must provide electricity from 100% renewable sources, with no ability to use offsets.

Joshua Basofin, Oregon clean-energy policy manager with environmental nonprofit Climate Solutions, said advocates had realized over the past couple of years the potential for data centers and crypto mining operations to contribute to ongoing carbon emissions under House Bill 2021, Oregon’s climate law passed in 2021. They wanted to close the loophole.

“Data centers and crypto have been very attracted to Oregon,” Basofin said. “We were thinking it would be great if there was parity with HB 2021 for these other big loads. Crypto is not quite as developed here, but I think there’s big potential for it to grow.”

“Climate change is real, it’s impacting our communities and we need to hold our big energy users to the standard we’re holding our big utilities,” Marsh said.

Oregon and Washington both still have a double-digit percentage of their energy supply to wean off nonrenewables, according to data from both states.

The most recent figures posted by the Oregon Department of Energy on the statewide power generation resource mix showed coal accounted for 26% of the electricity on the state grid in 2020, followed by 21% coming from natural gas, 40% from hydro power and 7% from wind.

Washington’s hydro power share was higher, approximately 55%, but its electric utilities’ overall resource mix still included about 10% from coal as of 2020, according to data from the Washington Department of Commerce. Nearly 13% came from natural gas, while wind and nuclear combined made up 9%.

The gravity and scale of the task ahead are why statewide policymakers are trying to strike a balance between quashing the crypto mining industry and throwing open the doors for more energy to be diverted to bitcoin miners.

“Even if they are building their own new clean resources, it still could compete for a scarce resource, which is new clean electricity sources,” Blackmon of the Washington Energy Office said. 

“Meanwhile, there are other novel uses that we’re pretty interested in, too, and would tend to rank them more valuable than crypto.”

InvestigateWest (invw.org) is an independent news nonprofit dedicated to investigative journalism in the Pacific Northwest. This story was made possible with support from the Sustainable Path Foundation. Reporter Kaylee Tornay can be reached at [email protected].

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