Nevada Power Co. officials may decide this week whether to nix plans for a controversial strip coal mining operation near Bryce Canyon National Park in favor of a proposed mining site in Emery County.

If Nevada Power officials do decide to abandon their federal lease to mine the Alton Coal Field in Kane County, the move would lay to rest a longtime controversy so heated that at one time it involved then U.S. Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus.Still, any such decision would ultimately have to be OK'd by Congress, which controls leases to both the Alton Coal Field and the proposed Emery County mining site.

Charlie Vaughn, a spokesman for Nevada Power Co., said the utility is only considering the possibility of swapping leases to federal land and emphasized that no decision has yet been made. The idea will be presented to senior management on Tuesday.

"We are just in the process of looking at all of our options. We haven't even decided whether to make application to the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) for it. To call it a swap is premature - we're just evaluating all of our options," Vaughn said.

Kane County ranchers and conservationists have protested the Alton Coal Field project, which would slurry coal to the proposed Harry Allen Power Plant near Las Vegas via a 183-mile pipeline. Such an operation would use underground water reserves that opponents claim could be used to supply a city of 25,000 people, a move they say would inhibit future growth in the county.

In 1980, Andrus ruled that 9,000 acres of the Alton Coal Field was off-limits to mining because it would damage the view from Bryce Canyon. But thousands of acres were not included in the order.

The Emery County mining site became an option earlier this month, when Nevada Electric Investment Co. - a subsidiary of Nevada Power - purchased the Genwal Coal Co. of Huntington, Utah, for an undisclosed price. Genwal currently has a federal lease and operates a small mine in the Huntington Canyon area - near leases currently held by Nevada Power but not adjacent to them.

If company officials agree to the proposal, Nevada Power would try to exchange its rights in the Alton Coal Field for federal leases connecting the Genwal and Nevada Power leases in Emery County, giving the company a large tract from which to draw coal reserves. The Genwal mine and others could then supply the coal needed for the proposed Harry Allen plant.

Vaughn said he doesn't have a feel for whether Nevada Power management will accept the proposal. "They might decide to go on down the road with Alton the way it is. It's hard to read it."

He conceded that opposition to the Kane County project has been there "from day one. And it will always be there for a certain number of people. There's a faction in Kane County that wants it and another one that doesn't want it. But that's true the world over. This is no exception."

Vaughn said he doubts the proposed Emery County operation "would have the same kind of impact" as the one in Kane County. "It's something a little different. There isn't the same kind of opposition with an operating mine (Genwal) as there is with a non-operating one (in Alton Coal Field). It's pretty hard to have the same kind of opposition when you've got a mine that's already operational."

Last summer, Nevada Electric announced that construction to open the long-delayed Kane County mine "will not start before 1995. This represents a delay of approximately three years beyond the last announced schedule."