Greenidge power plant and bitcoin mine
Photo: Brian Kahn/Protocol

The bitcoin mine vs. the world

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Good morning! Regulating bitcoin mining is a bit like whack-a-mole. But it appears New York regulators are taking their sweet time picking up the padded hammer: For a second time, they’ve punted on air pollution permits for an upstate mine tied to a gas power plant. I’m Brian Kahn, and I’ve recently come to the realization that soft scrambled eggs are the perfect WFH lunch food.

A bitcoin mine lives to mine another day

There’s a bitcoin mine dressed in power plant clothing in upstate New York, and regulators just don’t seem to know whether to treat it like a sheep or a wolf. The Greenidge power plant has operated in regulatory limbo since late January, when the state Department of Environmental Conservation was supposed to rule on an air pollution permit. It kicked the can until March and now it’s kicking it to June. But this is no game.

The power plant has been the epicenter of a pitched battle. Greenidge is a former coal plant that was shuttered last decade, only to be revived as a natural gas peaker plant. (That is, a power plant that only provides power when needed.) But that proved financially less than lucrative, leading its owners to find a side hustle mining bitcoin, which has since turned into its main hustle. Rise and grind, I guess?

  • On one side, bitcoin bros and Atlas Holdings, the private equity firm that owns the plant, have talked up the plant as environmentally friendly due to dubious carbon offsetting. They’ve also presented it as an economic boon to the region despite Atlas being located in Connecticut and not the Finger Lakes region where the mine is, and the vast, vast majority of the mining revenue not staying in the area.
  • On the other, a large group of local community members and businesses have voiced their opposition to the plant, citing it as a huge noise, air and water pollution concern, and anathema to the Finger Lakes’ bustling tourism and wine economy.
  • And above all, there’s my main squeeze: the climate. (Love you!) The gas the plant uses to power its mining operation emits carbon dioxide when burned and also releases methane, a super potent greenhouse gas, on its way from the well to the plant. New York has a stringent climate law requiring the state to cut emissions dramatically. Something’s gotta give.

The air pollution permit renewal brought the fight to a fever pitch. In various filings, Greenidge laid out its plans for expansion, greenhouse gas emissions and other factors that made this a make-or-break moment to decide if the mine could continue. Instead, the DEC punted on its decision until June 30.

  • It did so despite acknowledging the plant’s proposed operating plan does not fit with the Climate Leadership and Protection Act, New York’s climate law.
  • Rather than rejecting the permit, a DEC spokesperson told me the agency “has advised” the company “of the need for additional greenhouse gas mitigation measures to meet the requirements” of the act.
  • Greenidge did submit some new info on March 25, but the DEC said it “has not made a determination regarding the sufficiency of the proposed GHG mitigation measures in meeting these requirements.” Translation: We’re still doing our homework.
  • That gives Greenidge three more months to expand its mining operations, something it has said is in the cards for this year. And that has advocates pissed.
  • The timing is, let’s just say, curious. New York state holds its gubernatorial primaries on June 28. And crypto mining is an increasingly high-profile issue. An estimated 20% of all U.S. mining operations call the Empire State home. Greenidge is essentially a flashpoint for the discussion of whether the state should continue to expand as a mining hub.

Cryptocurrency is all about some ideal decentralized world where we realize our true, free and beautiful selves. Like we’re at Coachella, sipping on a frosé, watching Phoebe Bridgers and, wait where were we? Oh right. Crypto. Sigh.

Look, I get it. That all sounds nice. But the reality is, crypto is not that. It’s a world of grifts, scams and greed. And mining has real-world consequences like ruining the planet. Despite those risks, regulators have been sluggish to do anything, particularly when it comes to mining. And miners have been able to stay one or even two steps ahead of the game. The longer we fail to rein in wasteful mining practices using fossil fuels, though, the harder it will be to keep the climate habitable. In a future where vertically integrated mines like Greenidge pop up all over, we’re going to need a lot more frosé.

— Brian Kahn (email | twitter)

A MESSAGE FROM PLURALSIGHT

Today’s job landscape is challenging for organizations looking to recruit and retain top tech talent. Recent labor trends, many of which are fueling The Great Resignation, have shown leaders across industries that their employees are searching for more.

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People are talking

Battling China is more important than battling Big Tech, Eric Schmidt said:

  • "I want all of the conversation to be with the tech industry — what does it take to produce globally strong platforms? What is it going to take?"

Four senators want the FTC to look into Microsoft’s Activision Blizzard purchase:

  • “We are deeply concerned about consolidation in the tech industry and its impact on workers.”

Meanwhile, Jonathan Kanter said officials should get stricter on deal reviews:

  • “The plain text of our merger laws in the United States demand that we have aggressive enforcement against acquisitions by firms that already possess a dominant position.”

Making moves

Microsoft is buying Minit, a process-mining startup, for an undisclosed amount.

HighPost purchased Centr, an online fitness platform created by Chris Hemsworth. The firm, co-founded by Mark Bezos, also bought Inspire Fitness; it will be folded into Centr.

E3 is canceled. The in-person component was previously called off, but now there’s no digital event, either.

Aaron Goldman, Daniel Holmgren and Paul Frazee will join Bluesky as a security engineer and protocol engineers, respectively. The trio mark Bluesky’s first hires.

Gunjan Aggarwal is the new chief people officer at Confluent. Aggarwal last worked in the same rolle at RingCentral.

Ben Jenkins is the new president and chief investment officer of DigitalBridge. Jenkins was previously the company’s chief investment officer.

In other news

Facebook’s downranking system hasn’t been working properly, The Verge reported. Rather than suppressing problematic content, the News Feed has been mistakenly promoting it over the past six months.

Joe Biden wants to get more materials for EV production. His administration is using the Defense Production Act to increase the output of materials used in batteries and EVs.

Samsung will allow users to repair their own phones. It's launching a new program this summer for repair pros and amateur fixers, though not for all its devices. Still, it's another big win for the right-to-repair movement.

Two Amazon union fights are down to the wire. It looks like unionization efforts will lose in Bessemer, but have a solid lead in Staten Island.

Fast is falling apart. A string of stories and leaks show the once-hot checkout company in total crisis, looking for a buyer and potentially preparing to lay off a large portion of its staff.

China is eyeing new rules for livestreamers, sources told The Wall Street Journal. Authorities want to limit the amount of money livestreamers can take from fans on any given day.

Apple introduced a new subscription service for businesses, called Business Essentials, which will help managers set up and run software on Apple products.

The chip shortage is hitting Ford again. The company stopped production at its Michigan plant, where the Mustang is built.

Instagram Reels is struggling to attract the right creators. Some of the most viewed Reels have been posted by anonymous accounts, and over 80% came from aggregator accounts.

Meta’s hosting a new event called “Conversations,” which is focused on its messaging product, on May 19.

Happy April Fools’ Day, from your super funny tech company

Today is a hard one for the gullible. You could be the target of a friend or family member’s best April Fool’s joke yet, or worse: You could fall for a tech company’s prank. You don’t have to fall for the joke, though, to appreciate its humor. Here are a few of our favorites from years past:

  • Gmail is really happening. When Google launched Gmail in 2004, it had to clarify that the release was not, in fact, a prank.
  • The Google Tulip. Google pulled an actual prank a few years later when it introduced a new app that lets Google Assistant and Google Homes talk to tulips.
  • Netflix said it bought Seth Rogan in 2018. Kidding!
  • Discocover Weekly. Some of us at Protocol fell for Spotify’s prank a couple years ago, when the platform created a Discover Weekly playlist that just included disco covers.
  • Tumblr’s venture into crypto. In 2018, the company said it was introducing the Tumblcoin. In 2022, though, it probably wouldn’t be a joke.
  • Volkswagen to Voltswagen. Maybe it’s too soon to bring this one up, but remember when Volkswagen convinced everyone that it had changed its name, only for it to be a big prank? That joke went too far. It ended in an SEC investigation.
  • 1Password’s password book. In 2019, the company jokingly introduced a journal where you could write down your passwords. Genius.

A MESSAGE FROM PLURALSIGHT

Technology organizations need to look internally to find the talent they seek by upskilling and reskilling their existing tech workforce. For this vision to become a reality, organizations must focus on being creators, rather than consumers, of talent.

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Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to sourcecode@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you Sunday.

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