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Curious How Decisionmakers Will View AI and climate? Look No Further than Crypto.

AI is becoming inescapable – in our day-to-day lives, legislation, and regulation. In the last six months, congressional committees and offices have held over 50 hearings and insight forums. In May of last year, committees kicked off hearings to better understand AI and, in just under six months, committees have dug deeper into how AI will impact specific sectors. While workforce, privacy, and national security have all been top concerns, it is only a matter of time until environmental issues rise to higher priority levels for certain congressional offices and agencies.

Last week, Representatives Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Don Beyer (D-VA) and Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) introduced the Artificial Intelligence Environmental Impacts Act of 2024. The bill seeks to address the environmental consequences of artificial intelligence. If passed, it would direct the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to develop standards for measuring and reporting AI's environmental impacts, create a voluntary framework for AI developers to report these impacts, and mandate an interagency study to investigate both positive and negative environmental effects of AI. This is the first of likely many bills to address AI’s environmental impact.

While different in scope and staying power, it’s easy to draw a parallel between AI policy and cryptocurrency to understand the trajectory of what’s to come for AI environmental oversight. Both issues have had rapid technological advancements and take time for lawmakers to wrap their heads around the implications of the technology. And, both issues have use cases and concerns that are not immediately connected to water and energy use.

In 2022, the environmental impacts of cryptocurrency attracted the attention of several Senate offices who kept a steady drumbeat of oversight letters to companies and the Biden Administration. U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ed Markey (D-MA) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Representatives Jared Huffman (D-CA) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) conducted an investigation into the environmental impacts of crypto mining and sent a series of oversight letters to EPA and DOE along with the top crypto companies demanding answers for reducing environmental impact.

We expect these same players, as well as many others, to raise awareness about the environmental impacts of AI. This issue is not going away and companies should be getting ahead of the issue by educating Congress and the Administration on what they are doing to minimize the environmental impact of AI use.


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