The House Looks Into Crypto’s Energy Impact

A House committee will take a look at crypto and its energy requirements this week. It’s another congressional look at crypto.

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Yet another crypto hearing

The narrative

Crypto’s energy use has been under scrutiny for quite a while. We’re going to hear from U.S. lawmakers about the issue for the first time in years on Thursday, when the House Energy and Commerce Committee hosts a hearing titled “Cleaning Up Cryptocurrency: The Energy Impacts of Blockchains.”

Why it matters

Lawmakers have been talking about energy and environmental concerns around crypto mining.

Breaking it down

So full disclosure: I used to cover climate and climate issues. Climate change is certainly a real one. We can see that in the polar vortexes of years past, in the disintegrating sea ice in the Antarctic, in derechos in the American midwest.

Environmental concerns around crypto are nothing new. The University of Cambridge’s Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index estimates that the Bitcoin network currently uses around 15.7 gigawatts (or about 12 time traveling DeLoreans) (1 gigawatt = 1 billion watts). For comparison, my laptop uses around 65 watts.

And a reminder that this is just bitcoin (BTC). There’s several thousand other cryptocurrencies with their own varied energy needs.

Part of the hearing seems likely to focus on the environmental impact of running all of these miners.

“According to research on PoW cryptocurrencies’ carbon footprint in 2020, a single [ether] transaction added more than 90 pounds of CO2 to the atmosphere, while a single BTC transaction added more than 1,000 pounds of CO2 to the atmosphere. Based on estimates of 2021 emissions, ETH mining emitted more than 22 million tons of CO2 and BTC mining emitted more than 56.8 million tons of CO2. To put this in perspective, the global 2021 CO2 emissions of ETH and BTC mining is equivalent to the tailpipe emissions from more than 15.5 million gasoline powered cars on the road every year. Other estimates put these figures much higher,” the hearing memo said.

The memo cites Digiconomist and Statista in determining these figures, though crypto advocates argue that per-transaction energy estimates are misleading because transactions don’t actually work quite that way.

Still, the general point is clear: Lawmakers will be wondering about these emissions, and, in turn, the mining facilities used to power these networks.

“The profitability of mining and the increase of the value of [proof-of-work] cryptocurrencies over time supports massive investments in mining facilities, which require ever-increasing amounts of energy to power and cool machines,” the hearing memo said.

We’re also likely to see a focus on consumer impact. One of Thursday’s witnesses is Steve Wright, the former general manager with the Chelan County Public Utility District in Washington state, once a popular destination for crypto mining firms.

The entire board of commissioners then voted to stop reviewing applications for new miners due to concerns about how much energy these miners were using and the potential for them to catch fire or otherwise harm the local community.

At least one local bitcoin mining firm based in the area also declared bankruptcy.

Other witnesses include Brian Brooks, the former Acting Comptroller who currently helms crypto mining firm BitFury; micro datacenter chief John Belizaire; Jordan Ramis PC shareholder and onetime government official Gregory Zerzan; and Cornell professor Ari Juels.

To be honest, I don’t have a clear sense of how this hearing will play out yet. The seeds are there for a substantive conversation, though, and I’ve suspected for a year now that climate and energy issues will play into the crypto world so it’s really about time.

Biden’s rule

Changing of the guard

President Joe Biden nominated Sarah Bloom Raskin to be the Federal Reserve’s Vice Chair for Supervision, as well as Lisa Cook and Philip Jefferson to serve as governors on the Fed’s board. Fed Chair Jerome Powell and Governor Lael Brainard also sat for their nomination hearings last week, where they were grilled on a number of issues ranging from inflation to central bank digital currencies.

Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) also asked about the Fed’s lack of response so far to Wyoming’s request that its state-chartered special purpose depository institutions be granted access to Fed master accounts. It’s still unclear when or whether the Fed might make a decision.

Elsewhere:

Crypto Firms Can’t Outrun the ‘Travel Rule’: Marcus Pleyer, the president of the Financial Action Task Force, penned an op-ed explaining the intergovernmental watchdog’s “travel rule,” which asks countries to impose common know-your-customer rules on crypto exchanges worldwide.House and Senate Agriculture Committees Issue Bipartisan Call for CFTC Guidance on Crypto: Lawmakers in the House and Senate Agriculture committees are asking the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to explain its role in regulating crypto.

Outside CoinDesk:

(Bloomberg) Russian law enforcement officials have shut down the REvil ransomware group, seized various currencies (including an unspecified amount of cryptocurrency) and arrested ransomware attackers, including a suspect believed to have been involved in last year’s Colonial Pipeline attack, Bloomberg reports.(The Washington Post) The Washington Post spoke to aspiring Democratic lawmakers about their work with crypto in the lead-up to this year’s pending election.

ya and I posted about it on Twitter
was a sub tweet https://t.co/cqiE74SMRN

— Mark Berman (@markberman) January 13, 2022

If you’ve got thoughts or questions on what I should discuss next week or any other feedback you’d like to share, feel free to email me at nik@coindesk.com or find me on Twitter @nikhileshde.

You can also join the group conversation on Telegram.

See ya’ll next week!

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