Kentucky, the Bluegrass State, is famous not only for its pastures, but also for its many scenic natural landscapes — lakes, rivers, and stunning smoky mountains. Home to nearly 4.5 million people and sprawling across nearly 40 thousand square miles, Kentucky is also known for its mining industry, and has thus often found itself squarely in the center of debates around climate change, energy, and economy.
While Kentucky’s average temperature did not change significantly over the past century, most areas within the state have warmed in the last twenty years, and simultaneously an increase in average rainfall. Like many other states, Kentucky’s water supply and soil health is threatened even as precipitation increases because of longer, hotter periods between rainfalls. Parched soil is less able to absorb rain, and thus the issue becomes self-perpetuating.
Warmer temperatures will also inhibit frost and extend growing seasons, and drought is expected to reduce crop yields. Kentucky residents are expected to see a rise in extreme heat from 15 days per year today to 70 by 2050. For a state ranking consistently at the bottom of the stack for health care access and quality, this is extremely concerning. Extreme heat particularly effects people who are already vulnerable to health risks, like the elderly, the chronically sick, and historically marginalized populations.
The commercial coal industry in Kentucky dates back to the early 19th century and the state continues to produce enormous amounts of coal. It is the fifth coal-producing state in the country and over 70% of electricity generated in Kentucky is coal-fired. That proportion actually indicates a decline, as coal historically contributed over 90% of Kentucky’s electricity generation, but older power plants have become too costly to maintain in recent years although some of those plants now burn natural gas. Hydroelectric dams produced about 6% of the state’s energy in 2019.
Kentucky established The Climate Action Plan Council which submitted a report in 2011, which has not been updated since 2013. In the absence of continued state-wide action, Louisville, Kentucky’s biggest city, created its own action plan. It joined the 100 Resilient Cities Network and set forth a number of initiatives which not only work to curb emissions but also to help residents adapt to a changing climate and mitigate inequities resulting from climate change consequences. Critics say Louisville’s plan isn’t ambitious enough, as cutting emissions by 80% by 2050 still leaves Louisville falling short of emissions reductions that, according to the United Nations, are necessary to stave off the worst effects of climate change.