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Bitcoin-backers win out in Parliament battle over greening crypto

Bitcoin proponents snagged a win in Parliament Monday as MEPs rejected measures designed to phase out blockchain technologies that carry a heavy carbon footprint.

Backers of Bitcoin feared the rules, which came up for a key committee vote, would make it impossible for the world’s biggest cryptocurrency to operate in the EU.

At issue was an amendment in the EU’s bill for markets in crypto assets (MiCA), pushed by the Greens and S&D, that would ultimately phase the so-called Proof-of-Work (PoW) system out of the bloc — unless operating on a small scale.

The initiative comes amid widespread concerns among regulators and environmentalists that the energy needed to power the computers that run PoW will undermine the EU’s battle against climate change. Plugging these computers into renewables, meanwhile, could also push up energy prices.

Left-leaning MEPs had hoped to avoid this by phasing carbon-intensive blockchains out of the growing market. But the other side of the aisle argued the initiative would run hurt innovation and only push the crypto market into other jurisdictions — rather than dealing with the problem.

A total of 30 MEPs rejected the phase-out measure, according to a voting register obtained by POLITICO, while 23 lawmakers voted in favor. Six abstained from the vote in the Parliament’s committee on economic and monetary affairs (ECON).

A majority of MEPs instead supported a separate initiative that would require the European Commission to include more environmentally friendly blockchain technologies to the EU taxonomy — a list that informs investors of what the EU considers green.

Negotiations with EU governments in the Council can now begin after Stefan Berger, the conservative German MEP shepherding the bill through Parliament, also received enough backing within ECON to begin so-called trilogue talks without going to plenary.

“By adopting my amendment to the MiCA report, the EU Parliament has paved the way for innovation-friendly crypto regulation that can set standards worldwide,” Berger wrote in a text message.

Shifting crypto on into taxonomy debate, meanwhile, will ensure the debate on PoW’s high energy-usage is guaranteed — without banning Bitcoin, according to Berger.

But the Greens and S&D have accused the taxonomy compromise of being too soft and take issue with the fact that Berger had originally agreed to the phase-out plan before changing tact.

“We are disappointed that the rapporteur did not keep his word, breached previous broadly accepted agreements and gave up, given external pressures, to defend the interests of a part of the crypto industry,” Green MEP Ernest Urtasun said in an emailed statement.

“With the energy crisis the EU is experiencing and the negative prospects, we simply cannot turn a blind eye,” the Spaniard continued, comparing Bitcoin’s entire carbon footprint to that of Greece. “We will continue to push for this issue to be addressed, either during the negotiations with the Council in the trilogue stage or with the creation of new ad hoc rules.”

This story has been updated.

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