The Impacts of Climate Change and the Trump Administration’s Anti-Environmental Agenda in Kentucky
Just in the past three years, the Trump administration has attempted to roll back at least 95 environmental rules and regulations to the detriment of the environment and Americans’ public health. Moreover, the administration refuses to act to mitigate the effects of climate change—instead loosening requirements for polluters emitting the greenhouse gases that fuel the climate crisis. This dangerous agenda is affecting the lives of Americans across all 50 states.
Between 2017 and 2019, Kentucky experienced two floods, three severe storms, and one freeze. The damages of these events led to losses of at least $1 billion.
Impacts of climate change
- In February 2020, southeastern Kentucky experienced a “100-year flood,” in which areas experienced 4 to 6 inches of rain and at least 217 homes were affected.
- In 2019, 755 wildfires burned 11,714 acres in Kentucky. Wildfires in the state are being exacerbated by moderate to intense drought
- By 2050, Kentucky is projected to see a 95 percent increase in its index of the severity of the widespread drought.
- Kentucky currently averages 16 days per year when heat exceeds dangerous levels, but projections indicate that number will quadruple to 72 days per year by 2050. This endangers the lives of the more than 150,000 people in Kentucky who are especially vulnerable to extreme heat.
- Heatwaves are becoming more frequent in Kentucky and are projected to increase from 15 days per year today to 70 days by 2050.
- Kentucky is facing urban heat islands and is ranked fifth among states with the biggest difference between urban and rural temperatures.
- Kentucky’s mosquito breeding season has increased from an average of 117 days per year between 1980 and 1989 to 139 days per year from 2006 to the present, presenting an increased threat of mosquito-borne disease.
Impacts of the Trump administration’s anti-environmental policies
- In March 2020, the Trump administration announced its final rule to overturn Obama-era fuel efficiency standards for cars. These weakened fuel standards will lead to higher greenhouse gas and particulate matter emissions and will cost Kentucky residents $287 million This is particularly troubling in areas like the populous city of Louisville, which, despite years of improvement, has recently seen a setback in air quality compared with 2012 levels.
- The Trump administration is attempting to gut climate considerations from major infrastructure projects by eliminating the “cumulative impact” requirement of the National Environmental Policy Act. This is concerning because Kentucky’s economy relies on its agriculture, tourism, and outdoor recreation industries—all of which are highly dependent on climate and weather conditions.
- Agriculture: There are more than 76,500 farms in the state, and in 2018, agriculture cash receipts of all commodities amounted to $5.9 billion.
- Tourism: In 2018, direct visitor spending in Kentucky generated more than $7 billion and supported nearly 95,000 jobs.
- Outdoor recreation: The outdoor recreation industry in Kentucky generates 120,000 direct jobs and more than $12.8 billion in consumer spending.
- Mercury emissions in Kentucky decreased by nearly 85 percent from 2011 to 2017, yet the Trump administration just undermined limits on the amount of mercury and other toxic emissions allowed from power plants.
- In 2019, the Trump administration released a series of proposed changes loosening regulations of coal-powered plants and the disposal of coal ash, which can threaten drinking water quality. These deregulations are dangerous for Kentucky, where coal-powered plants generate 5 million tons of coal ash annually. Additionally, one of the state’s sites was ranked in the top 10 most contaminated coal ash sites in the nation.
- Coal company executives, particularly Bob Murray of Murray Energy, have requested and advocated for rollbacks of more than 15 different environmental rules and protections. These rollbacks include actions such as withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, repealing and replacing the Clean Power Plan, and slashing the EPA’s budget and staff numbers.
- Though Kentucky is ranked fifth among the top coal-producing states in 2018, the overall trend in Kentucky and across the United States is a declining number of coal mines. Eastern Kentucky coal production has declined by 87 percent since 1990, and statewide coal employment has declined by 30 percent from 2015 to 2016.
- Coal company executives, the Trump administration, and the administration’s allies in Congress—including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky—have left retired coal miners out to dry by refusing to fully and permanently fund their pensions and provide them with health care options.
- The continued operations of coal mines during the COVID-19 pandemic present increased health concerns as infection rates rise in the state, particularly given the threat to coal miners’ lungs and the fact that COVID-19 can present as a respiratory illness.
To read the personal stories of Americans affected by climate change and the impacts of the Trump administration’s anti-environmental policies in your state, visit OurEnvironment.org.