It’s no secret that Seneca County, like many of the counties in the Finger Lakes, is largely rural and conservative. Democrats feel underrepresented in county legislatures that are heavily Republican-leaning, while Republican lawmakers feel ignored by a Democratic-controlled state legislature and nearly 20 years of Democratic governors. Like the rest of the country, we have a lot of arguments, mostly on a partisan level. But here in Seneca County, there is one issue that always unites us—protecting our lakes, our watersheds, and our environment.
Earlier this month, the Seneca County board of directors, made up of 13 Republicans and one Democrat, including both of us, voted unanimously to urge Gov. Kathy Hochul to impose a moratorium on environmentally destructive cryptomining and to deny the Greenidge Generation’s air permits. We are all for supporting local businesses and job growth, but there comes a point when the exploitation of our natural resources goes too far.
Greenidge Generation is located directly across from the lake in Seneca County. It is a fossil-fired power plant that can produce electricity for the public grid in emergency situations when the demand for electricity is particularly high. Instead, it produces electricity 24/7 to power its 20,000 bitcoin mining machines. Greenidge pollutes our air with climate change-accelerating greenhouse gases that could make it impossible to meet New York’s emissions reduction goals. It also threatens the health of Lake Seneca, an extremely valuable resource that provides clean drinking water to hundreds of thousands. Greenidge provides no practical benefit to Seneca County residents. Its inconsistency with the character of our communities, in addition to the damage it does to our natural resources, is a threat to our thriving agritourism industry. This industry brings in $3 billion annually and employs 60,000 people. Greenidge’s alleged 48 jobs are just a drop in the ocean.
The cryptomining moratorium bill, which has been approved by the Legislature and is awaiting a signature from Hochul, does not apply to Greenidge — it only applies to fossil-fuel power plants that plan to produce electricity for cryptomining after that law goes into effect. So Hochul has to refuse Greenidge’s permits and sign the bill. In addition to suspending permits for fossil-fuel power plants that become cryptominers, the bill will also require the Department of Environmental Conservation to thoroughly investigate cryptomining’s environmental impact. Hochul now has a chance to protect other regions from suffering the same damage we are facing in Seneca County and protect our region from future damage. There is another power plant on the shores of Cayuga Lake planning to start mining crypto – this bill could halt this impending disaster.
Instead, Hochul has made headlines for refusing to commit to signing the crypto mining moratorium, just as she continually delays making a decision on Greenidge’s permits to fly. This is incredibly disappointing because we’ve been sounding the alarm about cryptomining for years.
In 2020, Kyle introduced a resolution to the County Board of Supervisors opposing Greenidge’s operations and asking the governor and the Department of Environmental Conservation to deny the facility’s air and water permits. Every single Democrat and Republican, including Paul, voted in favour. It’s not just the board of directors who think so — last year, New Yorkers in Seneca County and across the state overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to clean air and clean water. In fact, voters in all counties around Seneca Lake approved this election proposal by a large majority – including Yates County, where Greenidge’s crypto factory is located. Clearly, protecting the environment is a priority for New Yorkers, so why not for the governor?
The Seneca County board of directors has had some fairly tense and partisan political rows during the pandemic, but we’ve been on the same page on environmental issues. We’re cracking down on old, failing sewer systems across the county. We’ve increased funding for inter-community watershed organizations to help them make the greatest impact. We’re sticking to our side of the deal. Governor Hochul falls short, and she’s not just failing New Yorkers — she’s failing the planet.
We had hoped that the first female governor in 100 years to come from the upstate would show more sympathy for upstate problems, but she has yet to make us proud. Despite taking large campaign donations from the crypto industry, Hochul claims her donors do not influence her decisions. If that’s the case, she should have no trouble proving it by signing the moratorium bill and now refusing Greenidge’s permits. We’re sure Hochul won’t be counting on the support of upstate Republicans during her campaign, but even sane Democrats are losing faith in her with each passing day that she doesn’t act. Conservation isn’t a partisan issue in the Finger Lakes—it’s about the only thing we can all agree on.
Kyle Barnhart, a Democrat, is the City Superintendent of Lodi, New York. Paul Kronenwetter, a Republican, is a freelance supervisor based out of Seneca Falls, New York. Both sit on the Seneca County board of directors.