How top-down federal energy overregulation produces modern day ghost towns

Sep 8, 2023 by AFP

The figure of a tumbleweed blowing through a dusty ghost town is as much a part of Americana as apple pie on the Fourth of July.  

It is tempting to think this image is well within our past. But it isn’t.  

Top-down federal energy regulations have hallowed out dozens of American communities.  

Waynesburg, Penn. is one of them. In a new video, “The Towns Washington Forgot,” AFP tells Waynesburg’s story and others like it — and offers a path toward revival. 

Overregulation is taking towns from boom to bust and causing the energy sector to leave Pennsylvania

Waynesburg once was a place of opportunity. Family-sustaining energy jobs were plentiful as new infrastructure projects came online. Those investments slowed once Washington policymakers began piling more rules onto project development. 

In 2015, Emerald Mine shuttered its 38-year-old business, citing a slowing market and a challenging regulatory environment. Hundreds of people lost their jobs, and the mine’s abandoned green towers stand as a constant reminder. 

By 2019, the number of active mining sites in the Waynesburg area fell from nine to four and its county’s population shrank by about 2,500 residents.  

By 2021, Waynesburg leaders were worrying about the town going broke.  

What’s causing the energy sector to want to leave Pennsylvania is overregulation,” said industry expert Mathew Thomas. “That’s people’s livelihoods that they’re impacting directly.” 

Matthew Thomas explains how overregulation caused so many Pennsylvania energy boomtowns to become modern day ghost towns.

Pipeline integrity executive Matthew Thomas blames overregulation for why many Pennsylvania boomtowns became modern day ghost towns: “The legislature doesn’t necessarily understand thoroughly what impact that has on people in the region.”

It can now take U.S. energy producers at least a decade to obtain the required permits to build a new project. The natural gas and oil sectors that are not the only ones languishing. More than 95% of energy projects waiting for permits are related to solar, wind, and battery storage. 

Top-down rules stifle energy production — raising prices for consumers across the country — and make it too difficult for companies to build in Waynesburg. 

But Waynesburg is not alone. Pennsylvania’s Marianna Mine shut down in 1988. Denny Welsh, whose family has worked in the coal industry for generations, said his community turned into a ghost town almost overnight as businesses that supported the mine shuttered too.  

[W]e were out of work,” explained Welsh. “This town was just devastated, almost immediately. There was no reason to come here anymore.”  

The closing of the Marianna Mine put families out of work and helped create one of the modern ghost towns in Pennsylvania.

The Marianna Mine opened in the late 1800s and operated until 1988.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline is giving towns a second chance despite overregulation

The Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), a 300-mile natural gas pipeline, offered Waynesburg and communities like it in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Virginia a chance at revival.  

Townspeople had hope because when energy firms can build it fuels growth in other sectors. 

The oil and gas community coming in here is like a lifeline,” said Waynesburg small business owner Shannon Taylor. “Whether you have someone that works in the industry or not, it still is going to affect you. It’s affecting you in taxes. It’s affecting your townships. That’s what a lot of people don’t understand is even if you don’t know someone personally that works in the coal mine or oil and gas, you know someone that sells the material to them, you know someone that’s feeding those workers.” 

Waynesburg, PA business owner Shannon Taylor explains how the loss of PA's energy industry, caused by overregulation, has affected other businesses and made Waynesburg one of PA's modern day ghost towns.

Waynesburg business owner Shannon Taylor has experienced the collateral damage created by the loss of the energy industry caused by overregulation: “We need that industry in order for every business to sustain itself in this county.”

Lawsuits that delayed the pipeline’s development year-after-year crushed that hope. 

The delays were so long that even Congress got fed up. This past June, a bipartisan group of federal lawmakers approved a bill that said no more MVP lawsuits — the pipeline must be allowed to move forward.  

Just weeks later, however, a federal court stopped work again. The U.S. Supreme Court had to intervene to uphold Congress’s clear intentions. 

This pipeline project has faced delay after delay because of onerous government policies including red tape and regulation, and endless environmental lawsuits that are standing in the way,” explained AFP Pennsylvania State Director Ashley Klingensmith. 

The system is broken.  

Reforms will revive towns Washington forgot 

Local, state, and federal lawmakers need to understand what people in towns like Waynesburg and Marianna have gone through. 

“Talk to the actual individuals that have the dirt under their nails,” said Taylor.  

Then translate that knowledge into reform. 

Denny Welsh is a generational coal miner preserving the memory of Marianna, PA before its coal mine closed and turned the town into a modern-day ghost town.

Denny Welsh, a generational coal miner in Marianna, PA, uses a model replica to show what the town and its famous coal mine looked like at its peak. “At one time this was a pretty special place,” he said.

To start, Congress should approve H.R. 1, the Lower Energy Costs Act, which would roll back regulatory restrictions and taxes that are crippling production supply chains and affordable energy delivery by:  

  • Ending abuse of Clean Water Act permitting by anti-development states seeking to block pipelines and other affordable energy projects;  
  • Streamlining duplicative regulations that undermine investment in domestic natural gas;  
  • Eliminating a tax on natural gas infrastructure borne by consumers;  
  • Restoring predictability to energy production from federal lands; and  
  • Overturning lower court rulings that seek to erode property rights and federal lands as a viable source for energy production. 

By removing these bottlenecks, H.R. 1 would ensure abundant, affordable energy from diverse sources. It would revive towns like Waynesburg.   

This is not just a Pennsylvania issue, this is an American issue,” said Klingensmith. “Bad government policies are jeopardizing small towns and their ability to prosper. From Pennsylvania to California and everywhere in-between.” 

AFP-Pennsylvania State Director Ashley Klingensmith explains for the camera how bad energy policies and overregulation coming out of Washington are creating modern day ghost towns.

AFP-Pennsylvania State Director Ashley Klingensmith explains how overregulation from Washington is harming towns across the commonwealth.

Waynesburg’s Taylor said she knows when policymakers increase regulatory and legal burdens it will harm her small business. She just wants energy companies to be able to build.  

The industry is here. We just need the regulations to be lifted,” said Taylor.  

Visit to learn more.