Clash of Consensus: How the SEC’s Stance on Proof of Stake Tokens Challenges Crypto’s Green Future

April 17, 2024 by Jesse Valente

A bitcoin medallion sits in a lush green field–Is the SEC hampering crypto’s move away from energy-intensive mining and towards sustainability?

Over the past few years, the SEC has been driven by its focus on climate and a crypto crackdown. This article explores where these two priorities may conflict.

The regulatory landscape for cryptocurrencies is evolving, with significant attention paid to the distinction between Proof of Work (PoW) and Proof of Stake (PoS) mechanisms. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has taken a notably firm stance on PoS tokens, which could have far-reaching implications for the future of cryptocurrency and the climate.

Proof of Work vs. Proof of Stake: A Primer

Cryptocurrencies use consensus mechanisms to validate transactions and secure their networks. The most traditional method, PoW, requires miners to solve complex mathematical problems, consuming vast amounts of electrical power. Ethereum 1.0 and Bitcoin are prime examples of cryptocurrencies that have used this model.[1] However, the environmental impact of PoW mechanisms has been intensely scrutinized due to their significant energy consumption and associated carbon footprint.[2]

PoS, on the other hand, offers a more energy-efficient alternative. Instead of miners, validators stake their cryptocurrency as collateral to be chosen to validate transactions and create new blocks. The more one stakes, the higher the chances of being selected, drastically reducing the energy requirement compared to PoW. Ethereum’s recent shift to a PoS model was widely celebrated for potentially reducing its energy consumption by 99%.[3]

The SEC’s Regulatory Approach

The SEC’s recent actions indicate a stricter regulatory approach towards PoS tokens than PoW assets.[4] Chair Gary Gensler has repeatedly suggested that PoS tokens might be classified as securities given the expectation of profits based on the efforts of others—a core criterion of the Howey Test used to determine what constitutes a security.[5]

The SEC’s focus on PoS tokens highlights a paradox within its regulatory stance. Simultaneous with regulating crypto, the SEC has embarked on a broader agenda to enhance and standardize climate-related disclosures by public companies, aiming to provide investors with reliable information on climate risks and the financial impacts of those risks on companies.[6] Promoting transparency and accountability in climate-related matters while taking a stringent view on PoS mechanisms—arguably more environmentally friendly than PoW—raises questions. The agency’s actions, including the $30 million fine on Kraken for offering unregistered staking services, suggest a regulatory environment that could inadvertently favor less sustainable PoW activities over greener alternatives like PoS.[7]

Balancing Regulation and Innovation

The environmental debate around PoW and PoS mechanisms is at the heart of this regulatory paradox. PoW’s energy-intensive nature clashes with global efforts to combat climate change, making PoS’s energy efficiency an attractive proposition for the future of blockchain technology. However, the SEC’s stringent stance on PoS tokens might deter innovation and adoption of this more sustainable mechanism.[8]

As the SEC navigates the complex landscape of cryptocurrency regulation, finding a balance between investor protection and fostering innovation is crucial. The agency’s current approach to PoS tokens could benefit from a more nuanced understanding of the technology’s potential to address climate concerns inherent in digital asset operations. By considering the environmental benefits of PoS and adopting a regulatory framework that supports sustainable innovation, the SEC could align its cryptocurrency regulation with its broader climate-related objectives.


The SEC’s firm stance on PoS tokens versus PoW assets raises essential questions about the future of cryptocurrency regulation and its alignment with environmental sustainability goals. As the debate continues, the need for a regulatory approach that protects investors and encourages the adoption of energy-efficient blockchain technologies becomes increasingly apparent. Balancing these objectives will be vital to realizing cryptocurrencies’ full potential in an economically viable and environmentally responsible manner.


[1] See Ralph Giles & Hannah Jones, Proof of Stake – The Environmental Impact, Society for Computers & Law (May 12, 2022),

[2] See id.

[3] See id.

[4] See Pedro Solimano, The SEC Has Not Labeled Any Proof-of-Work Asset as a Security—Why Is That?, Yahoo! Finance (June 8, 2023),

[5] See David Pan, SEC’s Gensler Reiterates ‘Proof-of-Stake’ Crypto Tokens May Be Securities, Bloomberg News (Mar. 15, 2023),; Cheyenne Ligon, SEC Chairman Gensler Suggests Again That Proof-of-Stake Tokens Are Securities: Report, CoinDesk (Mar. 15, 2023),

[6] See SEC Adopts Rules to Enhance and Standardize Climate-Related Disclosures for Investors, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (Mar. 6, 2024),

[7] See Kraken to Discontinue Unregistered Offer and Sale of Crypto Asset Staking-As-A-Service Program and Pay $30 Million to Settle SEC Charges, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (Feb. 9, 2023),; Hannah Lang, U.S. SEC targets crypto ‘staking’ with Kraken crackdown, Reuters (Feb. 10, 2023),

[8] See Giles & Jones, supra note 1.