The chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate, and Nuclear Safety reintroduced the Crypto-Asset Environmental Transparency Act, and last week held the Senate’s first hearing focused on the emerging technology’s impact to climate.

The legislation introduced by Sen. Ed Markey’s, D-Mass., on March 3 aims to hold cryptomining companies accountable and reduce their energy-intensive operations that some lawmakers claim undermine U.S. climate change efforts.

Specifically, the bill requires cryptomining companies to disclose their emissions for operations that consume more than five megawatts of power, and requires the Environmental Protection Agency to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the impacts of U.S. cryptomining.

“Bitcoin crypto-asset mining companies in the United States are estimated to use enough electricity to light up every home in the nation, and their facilities produce as much greenhouse gas emissions as seven million gasoline powered cars,” Sen. Markey’s press release said.

On March 7, Sen. Markey chaired the first-ever Senate hearing focused on the need to crack down on the growing environmental impacts of cryptomining.

The issue did not attract bipartisan support, and committee members appeared to remain split down the aisle in their views.

Democrats expressed urgency in how resource intensive Bitcoin mining can be, while Republicans praised how the industry brings in jobs and economic development.

“They may be mining digital assets, but their activities have real world consequences. This is an emergency, an urgent issue, and Congress needs to be proactive and reactive in tackling it,” Chairman Markey said during the March 7 hearing.

“[Bitcoin] relies on a process known as proof of work mining,” he explained. “Cryptominers use large banks of computers that suck up huge amounts of energy that run computations and are awarded new Bitcoins as a result. Every 10 minutes, a miner will generate Bitcoins award that are currently worth $140,000.

“As the value of Bitcoin increases, there is more incentive to run more computers, consume more energy, and mine more Bitcoins,” Sen. Markey continued, adding, “With an environmental impact like this, Bitcoin is more like digital coal than digital gold.”

The subcommittee’s Ranking Member Pete Ricketts, R-Neb., said he is “particularly interested in this topic as to whether this industry could result in more economic development.”

“I am interested in hearing … about how we’re treating one industry – the crypto-asset mining – differently from other electricity consumers. Crypto-asset mining is hardly alone in being an industry reliant on large data server banks,” Sen. Ricketts explained. “Many others use significant amounts of electricity to power their computing needs.”

Sen. Markey first introduced the Crypto-Asset Environmental Transparency Act last Congress, but it failed to progress out of the committee during the lame-duck session.

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Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.