How does the infrastructure bill affect the mining industry in the US?
On August 10, the United States Senate voted to pass a $1 trillion bill to revitalize America’s infrastructure. From the standpoint of the crypto community, miners in particular, the Senate’s foray into crypto legislation has been a disaster. Unless the language defining brokers in the bill is clarified, it will singlehandedly thwart the growth of a domestic industry just as it is taking off.
As written, the bill allows for multiple interpretations of the term “broker.” In the English language, there is no real controversy — or ambiguity — about what a broker does. According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, a broker is “one who acts as an intermediary: such as […] an agent who negotiates contracts of purchase and sale (as of real estate, commodities, or securities).” In traditional finance, brokers purchase and sell financial assets, such as stock and bonds, for their clients. Compare this with miners of Bitcoin (BTC), the dominant cryptocurrency. In contrast to brokers, Bitcoin miners solve cryptographic puzzles to validate new blocks, an essential activity for the Bitcoin network to operate. The miners receive Bitcoin as compensation for providing this computation service. Thus, they definitively are not brokers.
Related: Let’s be clear: Blockchain technology is infrastructure
Unfortunately, the bill passed by the Senate contains overly broad and ambiguous language in its definition of “broker”:
“Any person who (for consideration) is responsible for regularly providing any service effectuating transfers of digital assets on behalf of another person.”
A threat to the BTC mining industry
In defining a broker this way, the bill requires mining companies to provide the same information to regulators that a stockbroker is required to provide, such as taxable net gain or loss, identity of the buyer/seller, the amount of the transaction and the location of the transaction. Simply put, miners have no way to collect this information because they only validate the blocks, not the information inside them. As such, if miners are considered brokers under this language, they would not be able to comply with the law. This uncertainty, intentional or not, poses an existential threat to the U.S. Bitcoin mining industry.
Crypto mining is vital for the functionality of proof-of-work cryptocurrency networks, the most notable being Bitcoin. Without mining, many of the revolutionary aspects of blockchain technology would not be possible. For example, aspects such as decentralization, accountability, verification and security are all made possible through mining. Without mining, there is no Bitcoin network.
Currently, the U.S. crypto mining industry is expanding. Features such as a stable government, cheap energy, excess land and a strong economy have made the country an attractive location for crypto miners. Bitcoin adoption is increasing, both among individuals and companies — as adoption takes hold, the U.S. industry is growing employment for financial professionals, software developers, engineers, marketers and facilities managers.
Related: Broker licensing for US blockchain developers threatens jobs and diversity
Many Americans hold Bitcoin balances and many individuals globally use Bitcoin to transfer earnings and wealth to families in different countries. Citizens of the countries with mismanaged currencies are trusting the Bitcoin network to maintain their purchasing power in the face of rapidly depreciating currencies. In short, the United States is an important player in a rapidly growing market that provides value to millions of people. And this role is expanding as China, which does not trust the decentralized, market-based ethos of Bitcoin, has moved to shut down mining inside its borders.
Related: China crackdown shows industrial Bitcoin mining a problem for decentralization
The Senate bill snatches defeat from the jaws of victory. Just as U.S. crypto mining is set to expand exponentially, the uncertainty caused by the bill’s ambiguous language is stymieing investment. At our company, we have experienced this firsthand. Employment, wages and resulting consumer spending have been put on hold because of the bill — a sad irony given that the purpose of the bill is to support economic growth and job creation.
Unless the language in the bill is changed to clarify that miners are not brokers, the United States will miss out on several benefits that crypto mining offers, such as grid stability, capitalization of stranded energy, and the repurposing of wasted energy. Crypto mining enhances grid stability by helping utilities balance supply and demand. Miners maximize profits when energy is cheap and plentiful, providing utilities revenues when prices are low. When energy demand increases and prices rise, crypto miners stop mining, which releases energy supplies to the grid and brings down prices for other users.
Crypto mining and energy consumption
The narrative that crypto mining wastes energy has it backwards. Crypto mining does not waste energy but, instead, makes use of energy that would otherwise be wasted. Energy producers do not finetune their output to perfectly match supply and demand. Energy is frequently produced and not used because of mismatched supply and demand, and/or is lost due to transmission over long distances.
Related: Green Bitcoin: The impact and importance of energy use for PoW
The most cost-effective miners are located close to the utility’s power. The Bitcoin these miners “produce” does not create incremental demand for additional energy, but rather uses energy that would be produced anyway. Thus, in addition to providing investment and jobs to local economies, crypto miners promote a more robust grid, reduce energy waste and generate revenues that utilities can use to transition operations off of fossil fuels and into renewable energy sources.
There is still hope
Given these and other benefits, the Senate’s broadside against crypto mining is both puzzling and deflating. But there is still a chance that the U.S. House of Representatives rectifies the unfortunate language. Although the proposed amendments to the Senate infrastructure bill were not adopted, the fact that it was offered at all demonstrates that there is some support for crypto mining in the Senate. The House of Representatives may pass a different infrastructure bill. If this happens, it is possible that House and Senate negotiators could produce a final bill clarifying that crypto miners are not brokers. This would be the best outcome for the industry and the economy.
Crypto mining is going to take place somewhere because demand for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies is increasing. It would be better for the U.S. economy and the environment if the crypto mining industry continues to expand domestically. The first step to making the U.S. a leader in crypto mining is to clarify that miners are not brokers. The failure to do so will have long-lasting ramifications, preventing the United States from becoming a leading player in this fast-growing industry.
This article does not contain investment advice or recommendations. Every investment and trading move involves risk, and readers should conduct their own research when making a decision.
The views, thoughts and opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Hedgewane.
William Szamosszegi is the CEO and founder of Sazmining Inc., a cryptocurrency mining developer and consulting firm, and host of Everything Crypto Mining: The Sazmining Podcast. He is bullish on Bitcoin’s future as the dominant global digital reserve asset and believes Bitcoin is the solution for layer-one, sound money. William grew up in Maryland and studied psychology and management at Bucknell University. William spends his spare time working out, seeing friends and reading.