Nevada Power Co. wants to bail out of the controversial Alton Coal Field near Bryce Canyon National Park.

Citing opposition to developing a coal strip mine close to a national park, a company official said Nevada Power will attempt to trade its leases in the area for underground coal mining rights in Emery County.Charles Vaughn, a vice president of Nevada Power Co., told reporters Tuesday that the company would like to exchange rights to mine 236 million tons of recoverable coal at Alton for 80 million tons adjacent to its Genwal Coal Mine.

Nevada Power recently acquired Genwal, near the mouth of Huntington Canyon, Emery County. The new rights would expand its reserves, which are used mostly for industrial plants rather than power generation.

If the trade is approved, the Genwal mine will be able to reach the new reserves through its existing portals. The mine may double its employment, to about 75 or 100.

Vaughn insisted that Nevada Power still plans to build the Harry Allen Power Plant around 1996 or 1997. This plant, 25 miles north of Las Vegas, was to be fueled by coal from the Alton field, shipped in by a coal slurry pipeline.

"We propose to keep the leases in the Alton Project as viable alternatives and place them in a holding pattern until the exchange is either approved or denied," Vaughn said.

If the trade isn't approved, it will continue to develop the strip mine at Alton. Vaughn said the deadline for development is the late 1990s.

He said the company will look for other sources of coal before building the plant, if the trade is approved. If not, it will continue its process of getting permits for the Alton project.

Carolyn Lippincott of the Johnson Canyon Ranchers Association, located in Johnson Canyon near the Alton field, said her group supports the exchange of rights.

"We know it will be very disappointing to some of the local people who own the coal on their land," she said. "We're sorry that their dreams are going to be kind of shattered."

But she said the association has always been aware that the Bureau of Land Management has imposed stringent development requirements on the coal leases. This is a use-it-or-loose-it requirement: if the coal company doesn't develop the coal by a deadline, it looses the right.

"The leases begin to expire in 1992 and they will all have expired by 1997," she said.

Also, the merger of Utah Power & Light Co. with PacifiCorp will give the new entity the ability to deliver power to Nevada. "They're not going to need the coal-burning power plant that they had anticipated," Lippincott said.

She said she didn't think the coal mine was feasible. "I was very much concerned about whether it (the proposed strip mine near Bryce) would have an effect on the tourist industry.'

The Alton leases covered 26,339 acres, but 7,866 acres near Bryce were declared unsuitable by then-Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus.

"Genwal's coal reserves are near other reserves currently under lease to Nevada Electric Investment Co., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Nevada Power Co.," Vaughn said.

The recent acquisition of Genwal - a small mine that employs 41 people - prompted Nevada Power to reconsider the development at Alton. It decided to seek consolidation of its mining activities, he said.

For the leases to be traded will require both the approval of the Interior secretary and the consent of the Congress. "Nevada Power intends to apply to the Bureau of Land Management for a lease exchange and pursue the required legislation in Congress," he said.

"By moving the leases from Alton, the concerns over their proximity to national parks lands is avoided. At the same time, NEICO's time and money (already spent) in developing Alton is traded for leases adjacent to its other coal properties."

Rep. Howard Nielson, R-Utah, pledged he will support the trade.

Also expressing support for the exchange was one of the Alton project's most dedicated opponents, Terri Martin of the National Parks and Conservation Association.

Martin said conservationists have been saying there are better places to mine coal than next to a national park ever since the Alton strip mine was proposed.