“If we don’t do something really powerful and really meaningful soon, then the people who live in vulnerable areas … will suffer the most.”
This story was produced in partnership with the Center for Public Integrity.
Todd Bentley stepped onto his porch and saw the storm swelling the creek near his home. If this kept up all night, he feared, the creek could overflow its banks and wash out his neighborhood’s road. He headed out into the rain with his teenage son to secure his mother’s trailer across the street.
In minutes—before they could finish—they were up to their waists in floodwater. They had to clamber into the hills to escape. There they crouched for hours in their family cemetery, lightning striking around them, the water below them carrying cars, ripping up pavement and lifting homes off foundations.
“He started crying on me, it was happening so fast, and I, literally, I shook him,” Bentley recalled. “I said, ‘Son, listen. We’re fighting for our lives now—you’ve got to keep it together.’”
Nine years after they survived the flood, storms fill Bentley with dread. He watches the creek. He paces.
Flash floods have troubled Kentucky for decades. Now, extreme rainstorms are worsening with climate change, increasing the odds of more disasters like the one Bentley’s community endured. For Kentucky’s poorest residents, the people living in flood-prone hollows with surface mines nearby, that means an ever-present threat to both life and hard-won possessions.
But the state isn’t on the front lines of the fight against global warming. Its leaders, concerned about the impact on coal, have positioned themselves on the other side of that battle.
That’s created a dangerous and expensive disconnect—and not just in Kentucky, a Center for Public Integrity analysis shows.
Nine of the 10 states that emit the most heat-trapping carbon dioxide pollution per person helped block the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which would have been the largest effort by the U.S. government to limit climate change. Four of those states, including Kentucky, were among those most often hit by disasters in the past 10 years—generally powerful storms, which science shows are worsening as the planet warms…