Bitcoin Mining Power Plant Pollutes Seneca Lake

Atlas Holdings Accused of Violating Clean Water Act


New York's Seneca Lake


To “restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation’s waters.”

That is how our Clean Water Act begins, and that integrity is exactly what is under threat in northern New York. Atlas Holdings, a cryptocurrency mining group, recently took over a power plant in Dresden, to supply the group with the gigantic electricity needs of crypto mining. The takeover of the site also allegedly violates New York’s 2019 watershed climate legislation.

A coalition of environmental activists filed suit against Greenidge Generation LLC, a subsidiary of Atlas, for their continued violations of the Clean Water Act and the integrity of the waters in the Seneca Lake and the Keuka Lake Outlet. The complaint claims that Greenidge Generation has been discarding pollutants into the lake since October 2022.

 The discharge of any pollutant by any person is prohibited by the Clean Water Act, except those authorized to do so, and the lawsuit claims that there was no such authorization given to the company. 

Per the complaint, Greenidge Generation has not had any permit to discharge pollutants since September 30, 2022, as required by the environmental conservation law’s state pollutant discharge elimination system.

Natural gases are running the once derelict power plant. The facility stood as a tombstone on the grave of a dying fossil fuel industry for many years, with the steady decline of the coal business. However, as one mine died, another mine prospered, and the enormous wealth possibilities in Bitcoin mining reanimated the power facility.  

And this Bitcoin zombie may be the first of many power plants to be resuscitated in New York and the United States.

China was once the megalith of Bitcoin mining, but in 2021 the US took its place as the Chinese government outlawed the energy-intensive crypto mining industry. With the prevalence of vacant power facilities and cheap electricity, companies a making the move to the US, becoming a major roadblock for the country’s climate change goals.

Greenidge Generation has already been in the spotlight for the amount of carbon emissions produced by the plant, and lawsuits have been filed against a New York state agency for this. It is believed by the Plaintiffs that in allowing the purchase of the facility, New York are blatantly disregarding their emissions obligations. Namely, to have zero electricity emissions by 2040. 

The Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index stated that if Bitcoin mining was its own country, it would rank 36th on global electricity use. “Within the general public, I think a lot of people are still just grappling with what Bitcoin is,” an environmental economist at the University of New Mexico, Benjamin Jones told Popular Science. “But we need to be aware of the tremendous impact that it has on the environment. It’s very damaging.”

Bitcoin is commonly referred to as digital gold, but its mining is inordinately more damaging than the mining of gold itself. Thirty five percent of its market value is equivalent to the climate damage it creates, on par with the beef industry at 33%. 

Seneca Lake is advertised as a holiday destination for families to relax and enjoy the sun by the water. The lake is a place of natural wonder and history with many myths and legends of sea serpents and lake drums going back for generations. But now, as a local resident says, “The lake is so warm you feel like you’re in a hot tub.” This may sound lovely to the unsuspecting tourist, until they find out the cause of this ‘natural’ hot tub.

The lake’s water is still clean enough to drink with little treatment and its water quality is very high. But whether this will continue to be the case is left to be seen. The outcome of complaints made by environmental groups on behalf of the region could be intrinsic to preserving the lake’s water quality in the future.

Earthjustice made the complaint on behalf of environmental groups in the area, with the hope that a court will find that Greenidge has violated the Clean Water Act and that the courts will halt all discharging of pollutants in Seneca Lake and Keuka Lake Outlet. They hope the court will inflict the maximum penalties of pollution without a permit. 

The amount they seek for daily penalties, $64,618, is roughly equivalent to the all-time high value of one Bitcoin.