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Arkansas Legislature approves cryptocurrency mine study

Arkansas State Capitol
Jacob Kauffman
Little Rock Public Radio
Lawmakers plan to examine the environmental impact of cryptocurrency mines in an interim study approved Thursday.

A legislative committee will be doing a study on controversial cryptocurrency mines.

Also called crypto mines, these are large groups of computers designed to generate cryptocurrency. Recently, several have sprouted up in rural Arkansas communities. Some mines emit loud whining noises because of the fans designed to keep them cool.

Residents across the state say the mines harm their emotional and physical health. Other research says crypto mines take up large amounts of water and energy.

The Arkansas Senate Committee on Public Health, Welfare, and Labor will be studying “the impact of pollution and depletion of natural resources resulting from the presence of digital asset mining facilities.”

Committee Chair Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, asked for the study. During a Thursday joint committee meeting, she called the mines “a bad actor.”

The legislature passed Act 851 last year which removed many regulations on crypto mines, leading more to spring up across the state. Irvin said when she voted in favor of that bill, she didn't know exactly the impacts the mines could have.

“A lot of us in the legislature really did not have any idea about this industry, about what it would be like as a neighbor in a community,” she said.

Irvin said some mines are more of a problem for communities than others depending on their noise level and placement. These comments come amid an ongoing conflict in Greenbrier, where residents are suing over noise from the local crypto mine.

“Some mines like this one,” Irvin said, referencing the Greenbrier mine, “have become a real problem.”

A woman named Gladys Anderson lives a few hundred feet away from the Greenbrier mine with her elderly mother and autistic son. In an interview with Little Rock Public Radio, she said life there has become incredibly difficult.

Faulkner County Administrator Randy Higgins said he feels real compassion for Anderson. He lives four miles from her house and has met with her neighbors. He believes people living near the mine are suffering from its noise.

“We asked the owners and operators of this facility to come to the judge's office,” he said. “We met with them and we tried to encourage them to do right. They did build a sound wall closest to Ms. Anderson.”

He said the sound wall is a “help” with the noise, but it is still “constant all the time.”

Sen. Irvin was also concerned that the mines use too much water, which, like fans, are used to keep the computers cool.

At Thursday's committee meeting, Faulkner County Judge Allen Dodson estimated that the Greenbrier facility uses 600,000 gallons of water in one month. Irvin was concerned about this, referencing a recent incident in Stone County where part of the community ran out of water.

“At what point do we look at this and say this could be a dangerous situation for a community if they drain the water system?"

Phil Murphy, the Faulkner County Attorney, agreed.

“Where does that water go,” he asked. “How does that seep into the water that is being used by the farmers and the agricultural community?”

Dodson asked the state of Arkansas to use “science” and “norms” to find out when the noise levels are too loud or when the facilities are using too much water.

The interim study may make recommendations to the legislature over whether laws regulating the mines need to be imposed.

Josie Lenora is the Politics/Government Reporter for Little Rock Public Radio.