The Obama administration's push for reducing emissions that fuel climate change have many in the environmental and energy sectors bracing for what may come next.
The Environmental Protection Agency is set to release new rules for greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants by month's end. Those rules are less likely to have an impact locally but are bringing increased attention to the potential for new rules affecting existing coal-fired power plants.
"The new rules down the road are something we're very much keeping an eye on," said Nick Meyer, spokesman for NIPSCO.
"NIPSCO has no plans to build any future coal plants," he said. "We believe it is very unlikely that another new coal plant will be built anywhere in the United States."
Tom Easterly, commissioner for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, said Gov. Mike Pence challenged him to come up with a plan for reducing the state's greenhouse gas emissions to pre-1990 levels.
Obama said he wants the nation's greenhouse gas emissions to be at 1990s levels by 2020, which is the same as 17 percent below 2005 levels.
No rules have been set requiring those changes.
Easterly told the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commissioner's Environmental Management Policy Committee last month he examined the potential results of converting all fossil fuels used in the state to natural gas.
"That means BP refinery is gone and everything else runs on NIPSCO natural gas," Easterly said. "All the poor people without cars sure aren't going to be able to (afford) all natural gas cars."
In Easterly's model, all coal-fired power plants would be replaced by natural gas-fired plants.
"Utility bills would skyrocket," Easterly said.
If all of these measures were to take place, Easterly said the state still would not meet the pre-1990 emission levels.
"I don't think we can get there," Easterly said. "But, if we do it, what are the realistic costs and ramifications and benefits? Do we want to stop all uses of coal over time if it's not going to make a difference?"
Brian Urbaszewski, director of environmental health programs for the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, disputed Easterly's claims.
"If we get rid of the refinery and convert all coal plants to natural gas, we would be way below 17 percent," Urbaszewski said.
The uncertainty about future regulations on existing coal-fired plants, Urbaszewski said, is a serious challenge for energy companies.
"The question they face is do we put all the conventional pollution controls on old plants now knowing that the clock is ticking and eventually we will have to close them because we won't meet or won't be able to afford meeting greenhouse gas emissions limits?" Urbaszewski said.
"Natural gas prices are so low, a lot of companies are saying it doesn't make sense to put scrubbers on 50-year-old power plants."
Urbaszewski said natural gas and energy-efficiency measures likely will be the key moving forward.
"Energy efficiency is the cheapest way to get things done," he said. "You don't need as much electricity and save money because you're not paying as much in the long term."
Meyer said NIPSCO already is moving in that direction.
"NIPSCO is making a number of investments to improve air quality and have a positive impact on other emission sources," Meyer said.