Biden Administration’s Bitcoin Mining Survey Ends Amid Industry Lawsuit Victory

ByTim Russert

Mar 3, 2024

In a significant retreat, the Biden administration’s initiative to scrutinize the energy consumption of Bitcoin mining operations has been halted. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) has agreed to cease its emergency survey of Bitcoin miners, following a legal standoff with several key industry players, including Riot Platforms and the Texas Blockchain Council.

As part of the settlement reached to end the lawsuits, the EIA is also committed to destroying any data already collected from the survey, as well as any data that was to be collected, ensuring that all such information is kept confidential until its destruction. This move comes after the industry raised concerns that the survey would force miners to reveal confidential information, potentially causing “irreparable harm” to their operations.

Resetting the Survey Process

In a move to address the concerns raised by the lawsuit and the crypto industry, the EIA has agreed to issue a new notice in the Federal Register, effectively resetting the Bitcoin mining survey process. This decision marks a significant shift from the administration’s previous approach, as outlined in the original notice dated February 9, which proceeded without seeking public comment or feedback.

The forthcoming notice will introduce a 60-day period for public comment, offering stakeholders the opportunity to voice their opinions and concerns regarding the survey. This period is crucial for ensuring transparency and collaboration between the government and the cryptocurrency mining sector. Following the comment period, the EIA plans to proceed with the survey, adhering strictly to specific statutory and regulatory guidelines to mitigate any potential issues or controversies.

Furthermore, the EIA has committed to considering all comments received in response to both the new notice and the initial February 9 notice as if they were submitted under the upcoming publication. This inclusive approach aims to ensure that all stakeholder feedback is thoroughly reviewed and taken into account in the survey’s methodology and execution. As part of the settlement reached with the plaintiffs, the EIA and other defendants have agreed to compensate Riot Platforms and the Texas Blockchain Council for their legal expenses, totaling $2,199.45.

Survey Origins and Political Controversy

The EIA’s initiative to gather data on Bitcoin mining operations commenced in late January, following the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)’s authorization of the survey as an emergency measure. This move was deeply intertwined with the Biden administration’s broader energy strategy, particularly the ambitious goals set forth in the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act.

The administration’s concern centered around the potential for Bitcoin mining activities to surge in tandem with the cryptocurrency’s price, thereby exacerbating energy consumption during peak demand periods and in colder months, posing a challenge to the nation’s energy grid and sustainability objectives.

The survey quickly became a focal point of political debate. Republican Congressman Tom Emmer voiced his opposition on February 22, challenging the premise that Bitcoin mining represented a significant threat to energy consumption patterns. Emmer criticized the EIA for invoking emergency protocols to justify the survey without adhering to the procedural necessity of introducing a period for public comment, a step deemed crucial for ensuring transparency and stakeholder engagement in regulatory processes.

The backlash from the crypto industry was swift and unified. Leading entities such as Riot Platforms, the Chamber of Digital Commerce, and the Texas Blockchain Council mounted a legal challenge against the survey’s implementation. Their efforts culminated in a court decision that temporarily halted the survey until March 24, providing a brief respite for the industry to mobilize its response.

In a swift reaction to the mounting legal pressure, the EIA suspended its data collection efforts on February 24, merely a day after the industry’s legal victory.

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