As DOE Preps for Take Two of Controversial Crypto Mining Survey, Industry Weighs in

The DOE dropped an earlier attempt to compel commercial crypto mining outfits to cooperate with an “emergency” energy-usage survey.

AccessTimeIconJul 10, 2024 at 8:27 p.m. UTC
Updated Jul 10, 2024 at 8:30 p.m. UTC

After the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) first attempt to survey crypto mining companies about their energy usage was kneecapped by a lawsuit, the department is getting ready to try again – but this time, it’s seeking input from crypto industry participants first.

The Energy Information Administration (EIA), a federal agency within the DOE that oversees energy statistics and analysis, hosted a public webinar on Wednesday to hear comments from interested members of the public – including crypto miners and industry participants – about how such a survey should be crafted ahead of a planned rulemaking proposal to be published in the Federal Register.

In January, the agency floated a mandatory survey for nearly 500 “identified” commercial crypto miners, requiring them to respond with detailed data about their energy use or else risk civil and criminal penalties. The survey was authorized by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which oversees federal agencies and administers the federal budget, as an emergency collection of data request, meaning it did not go through the normal notice and comment process.

The proposal was immediately met with outrage from crypto miners, including Marty Bent, director at bitcoin mining firm Cathedra Bitcoin, who called the mandatory survey “Orwellian” in a blog post and expressed concern that it could be used to create a “hyper-detailed registry of mining operations” in the U.S.

The following month, the Texas Blockchain Council (TBC), an industry group, and mining company Riot Platforms filed suit against the DOE, EIA, OMB and various officials, accusing them of violating the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and calling for a temporary restraining order and injunction to suspend the survey until proper a notice and comment process had been observed.

The EIA ultimately agreed to temporarily suspend their survey in February – now, they’re taking another stab at it.

Take two

More than 100 attendees joined the EIA’s 45-minute webinar on Wednesday, and 10 people – including crypto miners, industry participants, researchers and one member of the public – spoke.

Bitcoin researcher Margot Paez, a PhD candidate at the Georgia Institute of Technology and sustainability consultant at the Bitcoin Policy Institute, agreed that a survey needed to be conducted, but said the industry was “wary” of the EIA’s motives and suggested that an outside institution be selected to run the survey.

Lee Bratcher, president and founder of the Texas Blockchain Council, suggested that the EIA also include traditional data centers in its survey, and not just limit the request for information to crypto-focused data centers. The suggestion was seconded by Jayson Browner, senior vice president of government affairs at Marathon Digital Holdings, who said the industry would be “skeptical” of the survey if traditional data centers were cut out of the request.

“At this point we’re considering everything,” said Stephen Harvey, an official with the EIA, adding that including traditional data centers in the survey was “clearly on the table.”

Harvey said that the EIA is currently in the process of developing a preliminary proposal which is expected to be published in the Federal Register sometime this quarter. It will then go through a 60-day comment period during which the industry can respond to the proposal.

“At the end of that 60 days we will take all the information in as well, and we’ll look at that and make any adjustments based on new information that we think are necessary. We will respond to major issues that get raised in that process, and file a new posting for the federal registry,” Harvey said.

Following that, there will be a 30-day review process, Harvey explained, after which the decision on whether the EIA can move forward with its survey rests in the hands of the OMB.

Edited by Nikhilesh De.


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Cheyenne Ligon

Cheyenne Ligon is a CoinDesk news reporter with a focus on crypto regulation and policy. She has no significant crypto holdings.