This is a letter to the editor from 2022 New York State Senate candidate Leslie Danks Burke. It was not written by the Ithaca Voice. Please submit letters to the editor to Managing Editor Matt Butler at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras finally resigning following a deafening chorus of calls for his ouster for his role in a smear campaign against former Governor Cuomo’s aide Lindsey Boylan and his abusive and demeaning treatment of staff – another episode in Malatras’s work in state government bears re-examination.
For over six years, I and many others have been fighting the expansion of highly polluting and wasteful “bitcoin mining” in our region. We have had to do this because of a meeting — involving Mr. Malatras — that reeks of the worst elements of Albany backroom politics.
On March 3, 2015, Malatras (who two days later became now-disgraced Gov. Cuomo’s powerful Director of State Operations), met in Cuomo’s Executive Chambers with lawyers for the Bitcoin-mining company Greenidge. They were joined by State Senator Tom O’Mara, who was there because he’s Senator for the region where Greenidge sought to build – even though O’Mara simultaneously works for the same lobbying firm that was at the meeting representing Greenidge.
After the meeting, the Cuomo Administration fast-tracked permits to restart that dormant coal-fired power plant nestled on the bank of beautiful Seneca Lake next to the village of Dresden.
Six-and-a-half years later, over 600 local businesses, farmers, and families are now crying out against the devastation to livelihoods wrought by the daily 134 million gallons of hot water pumped into the lake after it cools furnaces powering 8,000 computers that churn out Bitcoin for its wealthy owners.
Mr. Malatras, Mr. Cuomo, Mr. O’Mara, and Mr. O’Mara’s firm’s clients all won, delivering the permits that would allow these corporate interests to pollute our community and even receiving a waiver on the normally-required Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
The families, farmers, local businesses, and our climate all lost.
Our region depends heavily on tourism to offset the economic neglect we’ve faced from Albany for decades, so corruption like this is more than academic – it’s a direct shot at the heart of our economy, risking families and livelihoods in a region where people are already struggling.
Across the state, while families struggle under the burden of crushing property taxes, backroom deals get cut every day that benefit wealthy special interests, in meetings that exclude “we the people” from the process, while elected officials like Mr. O’Mara personally profit from the decisions they make in the Capitol.
And let’s be clear, this is not a Democrat vs. Republican issue; Albany corruption has long been a bi-partisan affair – as the Malatras-O’Mara meeting shows.
Low-income people in our area already get walloped with higher energy costs, and as we transition to sustainable fuel sources like hydroelectric, we don’t have any to spare for Bitcoin billionaires. We need every green electron we own here at home, to go to our own people’s essential needs in shelter, mobility, and health. In the choice between profits for Greenidge or people in Groton, New York corruption chose Greenidge. It’s time to reverse that – and get ahead of the next corrupt deal – by getting rid of the lawful corruption in Albany that lets this happen.
No Senator in either party should have a side-job at a lobbying firm, especially not one that lobbies for special treatment from the state in his own district. The DEC should not waive EIS rules to boost a company that hired that Senator’s law firm. Most of all, families who live, breathe, fish, eat, and drink next to Seneca Lake, should not have to wonder why their government waived safety protections in a backroom deal – and whether that waiver means now it’s unsafe.
Governor Cuomo has resigned in a blaze of scandals. So has SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras. Tom O’Mara has been relegated to the minority where he can do less damage to his constituents’ interests while he represents corporate clients.
But politicians come and go, and we have to prevent the next corrupt deal by changing the rules that let this happen.
Greenidge remains, and its owners want to expand. They can’t go to China, because that country has banned all bitcoin mining to save energy for its own people. Frantic Bitcoin billionaires are now eying an abandoned coal plant on Cayuga Lake as the next site. Bitcoin lobbyists are newly courting the connected and powerful. But we-the-people live in a democratic republic. While politicians hitch rides on the private jets of Bitcoin Billionaries, touting cryptocurrency as the wave of the future – we can remind them, those politicians work for us.