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New lawsuit challenges state's decision to turn a North Tonawanda power plant to a cryptocurrency company

"The goal of our lawsuit is to force the public service commission to comply," said Hillary Aidun, an attorney representing the plaintiffs in the case.

NORTH TONAWANDA, N.Y. — The New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) is the target of a new lawsuit seeking to reverse its decision to hand over the former Fortistar natural gas power plant in North Tonawanda to Digihost, a Canadian cryptocurrency company.

In documents filed by Earthjustice, on behalf of the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York and the Sierra Club, the state PSC is accused of violating its own 2019 climate law when it approved the transfer of the power plant on Erie Avenue in September 2022.

"The goal of our lawsuit is to force the public service commission to comply with the climate law and do the analysis that's required," said Hillary Aidun, an attorney at Earthjustice, a non-profit environmental interest group.

The plaintiffs argue in their 22-page filing, that "the PSC failed to conduct the analysis required by the CLCPA" or Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, as listed in sections 7(2) and 7(3) - which require state agencies to consider the greenhouse gas and environmental justice impacts of their decisions.

"The public service commission decided to approve the cryptocurrency purchase of a gas plant in North Tonawanda without doing that analysis that is required under the climate law... we are seeking to hold them accountable," Aidun said.

The Digihost facility is used for so-called proof of work (PoW) calculations that verify crypto transactions using an immense amount of computing power. At the facility on Erie Avenue, those computers are stored in shipping container-sized hubs in front of the natural gas generation facility.

In November 2022, a partial statewide moratorium for this type of work was signed into law by Governor Hochul but because approval of the Digihost facility came before it, the facility has been able to continue operating.

"The state has been decommissioning plants like that so they're on their way out because they're not an efficient plant they pollute a lot for what energy that they create," said Chris Murawski, the Executive Director of the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York.

The Clean Air Coalition has helped rally neighbors in North Tonawanda who have been fighting against the facility since the very beginning citing noise and pollution concerns.

"This is affecting their daily lives so we organize people together to speak on their behalf to fight for their quality of life in their neighborhoods," Murawski said.

On top of the Public Service Commission, Fortistar North Tonawanda LLC., North Tonawanda Holdings, LLC., and Digihost International Inc. are also listed as defendants in the case.

Ultimately, the lawsuit asks a judge to rule that the PSC's decision be ruled unlawful and vacated as well as have the costs of their lawsuit and any "further relief as the Court deems just and proper" be paid out.

Aidun said the case was filed in Albany Supreme Court on Friday, January 12, although it has yet to be assigned a judge or register in the state's digital court document system, eCourts.

Neither Fortistar nor Digihost responded to 2 On Your Side's request for comment regarding the lawsuit.

When contacted by phone, a spokesperson for the New York State Public Service Commission said the utility regulator doesn't comment on pending litigation.

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