On Thursday, September 27, Missoula County's board of commissioners voted against adopting a yearlong ban "on new or expanded cryptocurrency [mining] operations" across the county, according to local Montana news outlet the Missoulian.
This unanimous decision closed the public hearing that had begun on June 14, a meeting that was ultimately suspended until this past Thursday to give the board and its staff more time to consider their options. At the board's initial hearing, various individuals expressed concerns with or support for expanded crypto mining development in Missoula County. Public testimony was divided, but 71 of the 80 written comments submitted were in favor of the moratorium.
Many of the ban's proponents said they lived in Bonner, which houses a large mining facility for Bitcoin data center Project Spokane. Residents brought up issues with noise and the possibility of increased greenhouse gas emissions from the facility.
One community apparently saw a $100 increase in average monthly electric bills after a crypto mining facility was established in the area, according to Brian Fadie of the Montana Environmental Information Center.
However, the moratorium may not have been possible from a legal standpoint, as the county lacks the authority to block one industry – crypto mining – via an interim zoning ordinance. Attorney Jaymie Bowditch of HyperBlock Technologies (the parent company of Project Spokane) noted that the moratorium could have only been approved if there was "an imminent threat to public health or safety." She continued:
"We appreciate the differences in opinion on whether there is a societal benefit [to mining]. But when you're talking about options like the interim zoning, you don't have the legal ability or right to make that decision."
Although the board is not pursuing the moratorium, it does not want to leave crypto mining unattended in the county. The commissioners also decided this past Thursday "to investigate the feasibility of addressing impacts such as noise, e-waste, and energy consumption from commercial and industrial development [of crypto mining] through zoning and/or other tools."
Further, two of Missoula County's commissioners, Jean Curtiss and Dave Strohmaier, believe that the environmental and related issues associated with crypto mining should be considered in a larger context. Curtiss recommended that the county "operate more globally" rather than focus on mining itself. Strohmaier added:
"We are talking about the impacts themselves, not necessarily crypto mining as an industry – the noise, e-waste, possible excessive use of electricity that threatens our planet. It may be that we need a much broader approach because of the potential [that] this would be myopic."
Montana, like its neighbor Wyoming, has been an attractive destination for miners due to the state's colder climate and relatively low electricity costs. As the testimony of Montana residents demonstrates, though, crypto mining may not be completely welcome in certain communities in the state.