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U.S. Congressman wants to scrub bill provision that crypto advocates say is a potential disaster

North Carolina Representative Ted Budd submitted an amendment to the omnibus America COMPETES Act of 2022, specifically targeting the provision that would allow the Treasury Department to impose “special measures,” including surveillance and outright prohibitions, against “certain transmittals of funds.”As Cointelegraph reported, executives of crypto advocacy group Coin Center had earlier turned the spotlight on the provision, introduced by Connecticut Representative Jim Himes, that would scrap the existing checks — such as the requirement of public consultation and time limits on special measures orders — constraining the Treasury’s power to unilaterally prohibit financial transactions. If passed in its current form, the provision would deal a major blow not only to the cryptocurrency industry but to “privacy and due process generally,” as Coin Center’s executive director Jerry Brito stated.Republican Congressman Ted Budd echoed this argument in a statement that read:”The Treasury Department should not have unilateral authority to make sweeping economic decisions without providing full due process of rulemaking. This draconian provision would not help America compete with China, it would employ China’s heavy-handed playbook to snuff out financial innovation in our own country.”In a tweet that followed, Budd called the provision in question a “massive mistake.”Tucking new rules that could adversely affect the crypto industry into huge, “must-pass” pieces of legislation is a practice that first came into the spotlight last year with the appending, without public discussion, of a highly contentious definition of a “digital asset broker” to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act later signed into law.The primary focus of the 2,912-page America COMPETES Act of 2022 is on remedying supply chain issues to keep the manufacturing and technology sectors of the United States internationally competitive. However, the sprawling bill also includes a host of seemingly unrelated measures and spending authorizations, including a ban on shark fin sales, steps against harassment in science and new liabilities for online marketplaces.

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Lawmakers explore Bitcoin mining efficiency, broader crypto policy issues during Congress hearing

On Jan. 20, the Oversight and Investigations subcommittee of the U.S. Congress House Energy and Commerce Committee convened a hearing to investigate the environmental effects of cryptocurrency mining. Despite the narrow focus, the conversation that ensued – which many industry experts appraised as a meaningful educational experience for the lawmakers – touched upon a range of blockchain-related issues and themes beyond energy consumption. Here is how it went down, and what comes next.Witnesses set the frameFollowing the opening remarks, the hearing kicked off with the witnesses delivering their testimonies. Bitfury CEO Brian Brooks made a point that it was up to the market to decide on the most productive ways to use the already produced energy and maintained that proof-of-work (PoW) is the consensus mechanism that is best suited to produce true decentralization of a blockchain network.In contrast, Cornell Tech professor Ari Juels, while speaking favorably of blockchain technology and Bitcoin (BTC) in particular, maintained that proof-of-work is unnecessarily wasteful while the downsides of the alternative proof-of-stake, or PoS, mechanisms are largely theoretical.John Belizaire of Soluna Computing stated that Bitcoin’s energy consumption should be seen as a feature rather than a bug because crypto mining can create efficiencies by using the excess renewable energy. Steve Wright, a former general manager of a public utility district in Washington state, shared his experiences of interacting with crypto miners who flocked into the area due to abundance of cheap electricity, while former acting assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury Gregory Zerzan introduced multiple uses of blockchain technology and said that regulatory uncertainty could hurt its development.Representatives then took to the floor with statements and questions. A few used their time for partisan attacks and political grandstanding, yet most made an honest effort to ask questions that either tackled the energy-related issues at the core of the hearing or sought broader context on the uses and potential applications of blockchain technology.Getting to the bottom of crypto miningCommittee chair Frank Pallone and Oversight Subcommittee chair Diana DeGette interrogated the witnesses on how wasteful crypto mining really is and how to make sure that communities do not bear the costs of energy consumption upticks caused by miners. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky expressed her concerns about the use of fossil fuels to power mining rigs. Witnesses responded by reassuring the lawmakers of the overall green trend in which the mining industry is evolving, particularly in the U.S.Some Representatives sought to get a better understanding of the efficiencies generated by cryptocurrency mining in order to determine whether they justify the associated energy use. Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers inquired about the larger blockchain industry’s capacity to generate new jobs and protect user data.Florida Representative Neal Dunn showed off some advanced knowledge of Bitcoin economics when he asked Brian Brooks about the relationship between BTC halving and mining efficiency. Dunn also stated that the nation needs to produce more energy anyway, and powering innovative industries such as crypto mining is a good use of this growing capacity.Congressman Morgan Griffith explored the geopolitical aspect of Bitcoin mining, concluding with a supposition that China’s mining ban resulted not so much from energy efficiency concerns but rather from the Chinese government’s dislike of the idea of decentralization. The resulting exchange with Gregory Zerzan resulted in the witness stating that “Bitcoin equals freedom, and there are a lot of places in the world that don’t like freedom.”Industry receptionWhile the hearing did not come across as a massive breakthrough, most industry observers highlighted the educational component of the exchange, as well as its role in moving the policy conversation around crypto mining forward.In an interview with Cointelegraph after the hearing, witness John Belizaire said that the committee members’ readiness to thoroughly explore the complex matter at hand has rendered the discussion productive:”Chairwoman DeGett set the right tone from the very beginning, the tone of ‘we are here to learn.’ Representatives asked good questions and wanted to get educated on these problems.”Belizaire added that he was surprised by some questions related to the possibility of using less environmentally friendly energy sources to power Bitcoin mining in the future, saying that “You have to put it into the context of the global movement taking on climate change.”John Nahas, vice president of business development at Ava Labs, the company behind smart contracts platform Avalanche, noted that the hearing, having started slow, eventually evolved into a “meaningful conversation.” Nahas commented:”It’s clear to me that legislators are seeing the value of blockchains. It was refreshing to see that they understand the numerous areas, like health care records and energy management, that will make our lives more efficient and secure.”John Warren, CEO of U.S.-based Bitcoin mining company GEM Mining, said that the hearing was “an important step in educating U.S. lawmakers on the benefits of the rapidly growing cryptocurrency industry, and mining in particular.”Consonant with Belizaire’s testimony and some of the Representatives’ comments, Warren believes that the migration of mining activity into the U.S. is a favorable scenario in terms of reducing the industry’s environmental impact:”Greater oversight in America, coupled with ongoing innovation, will ensure U.S. companies lead the way in taking steps to operate as efficiently as possible and thereby further reduce mining’s environmental impacts.”Policy implicationsWhile nothing about this hearing was particularly groundbreaking, the effects of such interactions between Congress and the industry tend to compound. It is consequential that over time, elected officials across a varied set of specialized committees – and not only those engaged in financial oversight – get exposure to pro-blockchain industry rhetoric and arguments.In the near-term, however, this interaction shouldn’t be expected to result in any specific legislation.Ava Labs’ Nahas commented:”This was mostly informational and the early stages of any policy process. However, policymakers should continue to engage with experts and objective resources to better understand emerging blockchains and their ability to secure billions of dollars in value while consuming just a small fraction of proof-of-work chains.”Still, the arguments that were raised around decentralization, the dangers of overregulating the crypto space, and various efficiencies that blockchain technology can engender will stick with at least some of those who participated in the hearing, adding to their long-term policy vision.

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Former pro-crypto CoC Brian Brooks to testify in a House hearing on the energy impacts of mining

As the U.S. Congress prepares to take a thorough look at the energy use of crypto mining, the list of witnesses for the Thursday hearing contains more proponents of blockchain technology than its outright critics.The House Energy and Commerce Oversight Subcommittee announced a hearing on “Cleaning Up Cryptocurrency: The Energy Impacts of Blockchains” last week, with the event itself scheduled for Thursday. The focus of the hearing will be on the energy and the environmental effects of crypto mining, specifically as it relates to networks that use a proof-of-work, or PoW, consensus mechanism.A Committee on Energy and Commerce staff memo released on Jan. 17 revealed the list of witnesses invited to testify. Among the five experts on the list, only one — Cornell Tech professor Ari Juels — can be definitively categorized as an outspoken critic of Bitcoin (BTC) mining in its current form. Ironically, Juels is one of two authors of a 1999 paper that defined and introduced the term “proof-of-work.”Another entry on the witness list is Brian Brooks, former U.S. Comptroller of the Currency and Binance.US CEO who in Nov. 2021 joined BitFury, a major player in the crypto mining industry, as CEO. Also notable is the presence of John Belizaire, CEO of Soluna Computing, a firm that is focused on developing green data centers for batchable computing. In a Jan. 6 blog post, Belizaire lauded Bitcoin’s energy consumption as a “feature, not a bug,” arguing that it provides a viable mechanism for absorbing excess renewable energy.Utility providers will be represented by Steve Wright, a recently retired former general manager of the Chelan County, Washington state, public utility district. During his tenure, Wright took steps to attract cryptocurrency miners to the county.Gregory Zerzan, Jordan Ramis shareholder and former acting assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury, once noted that concerns around Bitcoin mining could be addressed by “transitioning away from fossil fuels.”The memo itself offers a rather balanced overview of energy-related concerns associated with PoW mining, although it also reiterates certain statements that have been questioned by recent research. For one, the authors stated that the energy consumption and environmental impact of crypto mining may grow in the coming years — a claim that was countered in Bitcoin Policy Institute’s fact-checking brochure.Jake Chervinsky, head of policy at the Clockchain Association, tweeted that the memo was “not all bad, but commits basic errors.”The House E&C Committee published a 9-page memo for this week’s hearing on crypto’s energy use. It’s not all bad, but commits basic errors, like repeating the fallacy of “per transaction” carbon emissions.Read it here & watch Thursday at 10:30 am ET: https://t.co/AgMes2zOwf— Jake Chervinsky (@jchervinsky) January 18, 2022The hearing is scheduled for 10:30 am EST on Jan. 20 and will be streamed here.

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Early birds: U.S. legislators invested in crypto and their digital asset politics

According to some estimates, as many as 20% of Americans were invested in cryptocurrencies as of August 2021. While the exact number can vary significantly from one poll to another, it is clear that cryptocurrencies are no longer just a niche passion project for tech enthusiasts or a tool for financial speculation. Rather, digital assets have become a widespread investment vehicle with the prospect of becoming mainstream. Optimistic as that is, this level of mass adoption still does not enjoy a commensurate political representation, with senior United States politicians largely lagging behind the curve of crypto adoption. This makes the very narrow group of congresspeople who are also hodlers particularly interesting. As a lawmaker, does owning crypto, or at least having some crypto exposure, mean that you also vocally support the digital asset industry?According to “Bitcoin Politicians” — a crowdsourced data project aimed at tracking U.S. political figures’ crypto holdings using public financial disclosures — there are currently seven known crypto investors across both chambers of Congress. Here’s a closer look at the way their personal financial strategies are reflected, if at all, in their public political stances.Michael McCaulMichael McCaul, a 59-year-old Republican representative from Texas, holds the position of ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He was also the fifth-wealthiest member of Congress in 2018. McCaul is known for his hawkish foreign affairs positions — vocally opposing the U.S. withdrawal from the Yemeni Civil War and supporting President Joe Biden’s airstrikes on Iranian-backed targets in Syria.In 2016, McCaul co-sponsored a bipartisan bill proposing a commission to study the debate over the use of encryption, including its potential economic effects. In recent years, the Texas lawmaker hasn’t been seen making any public crypto-related statements.Barry MooreA newcomer to the House of Representatives, Barry Moore is a staunch Republican from Alabama. In January 2021, he objected to the certification of the results of the presidential election and even got his Twitter account temporarily suspended for posts that echoed the claims of a “stolen election.” According to a public disclosure, Moore purchased between $1,000 and $15,000 worth of Dogecoin (DOGE) in June 2021 — an investment whose value has since dropped nearly 50%. The legislator also invested in Ether (ETH) (up to $15,000) and Cardano’s ADA (up to $45,000). Still, Moore hasn’t publicly expressed his opinions toward crypto. Marie Newman57-year-old Marie Newman, another new addition to the House of Representatives, is a Democrat from Illinois who is aligned with the progressive wing of the party. She is a proponent of abortion rights, gun control, a $15 minimum wage and the Green New Deal.Newman holds Coinbase shares as of December 2021, having purchased between $30,000 and $100,000 worth. She also registered the acquisition of more than $15,000 in Grayscale Bitcoin Trust shares. Newman hasn’t made any public statements about the crypto-related assets, but she is a member of the Congressional Blockchain Caucus, a bipartisan group working to promote a more relaxed regulatory approach to crypto that would allow the technology to flourish.Jefferson Van DrewA retired dentist with almost three decades of experience as a New Jersey legislator, Van Drew was elected to the House in 2018 as a Democrat but changed his colors in 2020, becoming a Republican. This comes as no surprise, as Van Drew was one of just two members of the Democratic party to vote against former President Donald Trump’s impeachment inquiry in December 2019. Still, he voted in line with Democrats 89.7% of the time during his tenure in the party. In a 2020 disclosure, Van Drew accounted for up to $250,000 in an investment trust operated by Grayscale, one of the larger digital-asset management firms on the market. At the time, the representative’s office declined to give the press any details about the exact nature of the investment, and Van Drew himself has remained silent with regard to digital asset-related policy issues.Michael WaltzYet another recent House electee, Michael Waltz — a retired army colonel and former Pentagon adviser — is the first ever Green Beret to serve in Congress. A Republican from Florida, Waltz maintains a warrior ethos with a pinch of Florida spice, having called for a full U.S. boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics over the Chinese Communist Party’s treatment of the nation’s Uyghur population. Waltz also voted against President Biden’s $1.9-trillion economic stimulus bill and opposed the establishment of a commission to investigate the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.According to disclosures, Waltz bought up to $100,000 in Bitcoin (BTC) in June 2021, which makes him one of the few lawmakers to publicly own the original cryptocurrency, specifically. Nevertheless, on social media, the representative prefers to speak on foreign policy issues, and when he was asked about his crypto investment, he compared Bitcoin to gold in terms of serving as an inflation hedge. Waltz is also a member of the Congressional Blockchain Caucus.Cynthia LummisIn the case of Cynthia Lummis, a Republican senator representing Wyoming, her fame as a major crypto proponent probably comes before her credentials as a digital asset investor. A hardline Republican, Lummis was at one point the only female member of the conservative Freedom Caucus. In her January 2021 disclosure, Lummis — a member of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee — registered the purchase of between $50,000 and $100,000 in Bitcoin. The Senator revealed that her overall holdings amounted to some 5 BTC.Lummis certainly puts her mouth where her money is. For one, she famously compared the U.S. to Venezuela in terms of inflation, and she has stated she wants to launch a financial innovation caucus that would aim to “educate members of the U.S. Senate and their staffs about Bitcoin, its advantages, and why it is just such a fabulous asset to dovetail with the U.S. dollar.” Around Christmas 2021, Lummis revealed she was drafting a comprehensive bill that she plans to introduce sometime in 2022. In a tweet, Lummis asked voters to contact their senators to support the bill, stating that she was seeking bipartisan cosponsors. Pat ToomeyRepublican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania can be called the arch enemy of government spending (with a peculiar exception for charter school funding), having once proposed a budget plan with a $2.2 trillion tax cut. He also happens to be a strong supporter of banking deregulation. During the past year, Toomey emerged as one of the main public supporters of crypto in Washington. He criticized Senator Sherrod Brown’s plan to give up crypto regulation to executive agencies and urged Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to clarify the language in the infrastructure bill around the tax reporting requirements for crypto. In December 2021, Toomey came up with his own set of regulatory principles, released ahead of a congressional hearing on stablecoins. In June 2021, he bought between $2,000 and $30,000 in shares of Grayscale’s Bitcoin and Ethereum trusts.Will the trend continue in 2022?The list of publicly crypto-friendly lawmakers grew significantly last year, and although not every hodler on the Hill dared to reinforce their investment with symmetric political statements, it is an important trend for the industry. As Chris Kline, co-founder and chief operating officer of cryptocurrency retirement investment provider Bitcoin IRA, told Cointelegraph:As more representatives invest in cryptocurrencies, I think lawmakers will begin to understand digital assets on a deeper level, leading to a more informed and detailed crypto policy that will benefit investors on every level.Eric Bleeker, analyst and general manager at investment firm The Motley Fool, also stressed the importance of the knowledge-enhancement side of lawmakers’ crypto exposure:You definitely have to view those investments as beneficial for the industry. Did Visa receive worse legislation after Nancy Pelosi invested in its IPO? At the end of the day, crypto can be seen as a ‘threat’ by governments — we’ve already seen it outlawed in China. Having legislators own it adds to knowledge of the industry.Kline also believes that the growing number of politicians invested in crypto will inevitably convert to active support, both verbal and legislative. With new concepts like the Metaverse, nonfungible tokens (NFTs) and digital banking steadily conquering the attention of society, there is no reason for society’s representatives to not follow these trends.In Kline’s opinion, this will require legislators’ understanding of the deep complexities and nuances of cryptocurrencies and blockchain: “I see 2022 as the year legislators consider the potential of digital assets and another step in their widespread adoption.”Bleeker expects more U.S. legislators to get into the crypto game in 2022 for a simple reason: “Right now, they’re tremendously underinvested.” Bleeker noted that as of 2018, the median net worth of congresspeople was $1 million, with 10 senators having a net worth of over $30 million. It’s true that some legislators may avoid crypto for political reasons, but just by looking at the numbers, more crypto ownership from lawmakers can be expected from a pure portfolio diversification standpoint.The hope is that more investment in crypto by lawmakers will come with better understanding of this asset class and more political support.

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