Environmental advocates are renewing their push to convince state officials to deny the renewal of an air permit for a controversial crypto mining operation in North Tonawanda.
Representatives from the environmental law organization Earthjustice joined residents from the Lumber City during a press conference on Thursday where they called on Gov. Kathy Hochul and state regulators to reject an air permit renewal request from Digihost, the company operating a crypto-mine at the former Fortistar power plant site on Erie Avenue.
The same two groups issued a similar call for action last month amid continued concerns about the crypto mining operation’s impact on the local neighborhood and its potential impact on the local environment.
Digihost set up shop at the Fortistar site in 2021 before a statewide moratorium on such operations was authorized. The company’s air permit for its North Tonawanda operation expired on Nov. 8, 2021. Its application for renewal has been pending for more than two years.
Earthjustice representatives said the power-intensive operation poses quality of life issues and a potential environmental risk to the surrounding community. They also argue that such operations threaten to prevent the state from achieving its current climate change goals, which call for a reduction in the New York’s carbon footprint by 2040.
“We need to stop relying on fossil fuels to address the climate crisis,” said Earthjustice’s New York policy advocate Liz Moran. “Cryptocurrency mining keeps us in the hole, it does not dig us out.”
Critics of the North Tonawanda facility want the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to take the same approach to the company’s air permit renewal application as the agency did in 2022 when it denied an air permit renewal request for Greenidge Generation, a crypto-miner in in the Town of Torrey in Yates County.
In that case, the DEC determined that the Greenidge Generation crypto-mining operation ran in direct opposition to the state’s long-term goals for reducing New York’s carbon footprint.
“Digihost claims to be part of the climate solution, yet they plan to emit more than 300,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions every year, equivalent to 66,000 cars on the road and nearly five times the plant’s total emissions for the past five years combined,” said Jessamine De Ocampo, associate attorney for Earthjustice’s Clean Energy Program. “The North Tonawanda community cannot afford another major polluter. Governor Hochul and her administration must begin the public process of reviewing Digihost’s permit application, and swiftly deny Digihost’s air permit.”
Digihost did not respond to a request for comment.
On its website, Digihost is described as a “Blockchain Technology Company” with “core competencies in network development, hosing and mining operations.” While the company’s address is listed as being in Toronto, the firm is described as being based in the United States.
Homeowners living near the facility have for months expressed concern about noise emanating from the site.
During Thursday’s press conference, resident Kevin O’Connor, whose home is separated from the Digihost facility by a small wooded area, said he’s had many “sleepless nights” even with his windows closed due to excessive noise coming from the site. He described the continuing annoyance like the sound a person hears while standing next to a busy interstate highway.
Other residents living near the facility have expressed concerns about its potential environmental impact.
Deb Gondek, a resident who lives near the Digihost site and who served as a member of the city’s Climate Smart Communities task force, said North Tonawanda has been taking steps in recent years to assist the state in achieving its climate change goals and she believes allowing crypto-mining to continue at the former Fortistar site would result in a setback for those efforts.
If the state is so concerned about your local air quality, why would they allow a local mining operation like Digihost to harm it?” she said.
Earthjustice representatives, citing a story that was published earlier this month by the Buffalo News, noted that while Digihost representatives touted the North Tonawanda facility as a potential game-changer for the community in terms of job growth and economic development, the outcomes promised when the project was up for approval by North Tonawanda Common Council members have yet to materialize.
Colin Read, an economics professor from the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, said despite the lofty promises from crypto-mining operators, in the majority of cases, “a local McDonald’s restaurant usually employs more workers than even the largest Bitcoin mining operations.”
“It’s inconceivable that we would coddle this industry and meet our greenhouse gas targets moving forward,” he added.
The local push to convince state officials to reject Digihost’s air permit renewal application for the North Tonawanda site is getting a boost from a local environmental group, the Clean Air Coalition of Western NY.
The coalition is launching a letter campaign in an effort to help residents urge Hochul and officials at the DEC to deny Digihost’s air permit application.
Residents can submit letters by visiting: https://actionnetwork.org/letters/bring-the-air-permit-for-digihostfortistar-in-north-tonawanda-to-public-comment/.
“Residents continue to be plagued by noise and increased pollution, and worry about the potential exponential increase in air emissions. To meet the benchmark goals of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, as well as protect the health and wellbeing of residents, we must work to rein in our use of fossil fuels and toward a Just Transition. Proof-of-Work based Bitcoin Mining runs directly counter to this,” said Bridge Rauch, environmental justice organizer with the Clean Air Coalition of Western NY.