Facebook Twitter

HOUSE PANEL OKS BILL TO HALT STRIP MINING NEAR BRYCE

SHARE HOUSE PANEL OKS BILL TO HALT STRIP MINING NEAR BRYCE

A bill to help prevent strip mining near scenic Bryce Canyon National Park - and thus end decades of controversy about it - was passed unanimously Wednesday by the House Interior and Insular Affairs Committee.

The "Bryce Canyon Environmental Enhancement Act of 1990" now goes to the full House for consideration.The bill was amended to settle squabbles between a united Utah House delegation - which wanted to swap coal leases near the park for others in far-away Emery County - and the state government, which opposed the non-competitive trade because it would take away state bonus money from bidding.

The compromise passed Wednesday no longer calls for a simple trade of coal leases to protect the park. Instead, it calls for competitive bidding on new coal leases in Emery County near the Genwal mine owned by the Nevada Electric Investment Co. - which also owns leases on the Alton Coal fields near Bryce.

That will provide the state millions of dollars in bonus money.

But the bill offers the company up to $5 million credit toward that bid if it gives up its Alton coal field leases. The $5 million is roughly how much the company - a subsidiary of Nevada Power Co. - has invested through the years on the Alton leases.

With that financial advantage, the company should easily obtain the lease it wants in Emery County and ensure leases are not mined near Bryce.

"It's a win-win situation for everyone," said Rep. Wayne Owens, a committee member.

He and Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, who is also a committee member, also introduced an amendment to further financially benefit the state and local governments.

It calls for the federal government, not the state, to absorb the loss from lease bonus bids that may come from the $5 million or so credit the company is being given for its Alton leases.

So, for example, if the company were to bid roughly $15 million for the Emery County lease, the state and local governments would get their full half - $7.5 million. If the state were forced to eat half of the credit given to the company, it would only receive $5 million.

Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., said he would accept the amendment to pacify state government leaders "who have tried all along to kill this bill," but said he was not thrilled by it and did it only to protect "a crown jewel" of the park system.

He said, however, the bonus bids were fairly small money compared to production royalties and were not worth quibbling.

The Owens-Hansen amendment also calls for 20 percent of the state's bonus money to go to Garfield County, and 20 percent to go to Kane County. Owens said that is to partially compensate the areas for the economic loss coming from not developing the coal fields near Bryce.

Hansen said that was important "because a lot of those little counties are owned 90 percent by the federal government" and have a difficult time coping financially with federal rules inhibiting grazing, mining and timber harvesting on public lands to protect the environment.

The bill was originally introduced by Rep. Howard Nielson, R-Utah. "I am pleased with the results of the compromises all parties have made in order to get this bill through committee. This is a workable bill now and I'm looking forward to passage on the floor," he said.