On a balmy evening in July, the noise from thousands of computers running Bitcoin mining operations shattered the night. Nearby, Matt Brown, a member of the Arkansas legislature, observed the clamor alongside a local magistrate. As the two probed claims about the mining venture, Mr. Brown recounted that a security guard at the mine loaded an AR-15-style assault rifle from a car. “He wanted to make sure that we knew he had his gun—that we knew it was loaded,” Mr. Brown, a Republican, said in an interview. The Bitcoin company, located 45 minutes north of Little Rock, Arkansas, is one of three sites in the state owned by a network of firms embroiled in tense disputes with residents regarding the noise and disruption generated by the mining operations.
Scores of such Bitcoin operations have blossomed across the United States in recent years, capitalizing on the immense potential payout when a mining computer successfully lands on numbers accepted by Bitcoin’s algorithm. Despite criticism concerning energy and noise, the Arkansas Data Centers Act, popularly known as the Right to Mine law, was passed with the assistance of the Satoshi Action Fund. This law provides Bitcoin miners with legal protection from communities that oppose their operations. The fund, formed by Mandy Gunasekara, a former Environmental Protection Agency official who worked to roll back Obama-era climate policies, has succeeded in passing similar bills predominantly in red states. The Arkansas attorney general’s office has also initiated an investigation into the Chinese connections of several mining operations in the state, with concerns about national security implications as well.
The Arkansas Attorney General’s office opened an inquiry into these operations for potentially violating a law prohibiting businesses controlled by Chinese nationals from owning land in the state. Despite efforts by the Satoshi fund to build bipartisan support, Senator Bryan King, among other Republicans, refers to the law as a protected class issued for Bitcoin operators and has led calls to repeal it. Residents residing near these mining operations have filed lawsuits concerning the noise and other health issues. These disputes highlight that the increased growth of Bitcoin mining operations across the United States, amid environmental and safety concerns, are proving to be contentious.