In early 2008, the five tribes submitted paperwork asking the state to consider temporary protection for Mount Taylor. The request became public a few weeks later, on Feb. 22. At an emergency meeting, the New Mexico Cultural Properties Review Committee announced that it would protect the mountain for one year while considering whether it merited permanent status as a protected traditional cultural property. The uranium industry, local landowners and the surrounding communities felt blindsided.
Marita Noon, who is executive director of the nonprofit Citizens' Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE), attended that first meeting. "There were a bevy of (uranium company) attorneys who were against the TCP decision, who are normally articulate and able to present their case, and they were basically just begging for a two-week delay so that they could read the TCP nomination -- because no one had seen it," she says. "Then, you have Native Americans -- I may sound racist, but I don't mean to be -- but they are not the people who are naturally public speakers; they don't have a lot of experience at putting their thoughts together and articulating them. But they stood up with prepared, written-out statements." Something, she says, was fishy, and when the committee did not grant a two-week extension, Noon took up the cause with a vengeance. She left the meeting "outraged by the sham of democracy" she had witnessed. After a sleepless night, she pounded out the first of many op-eds.
Noon, an ebullient woman with fluffy blonde hair, is a popular speaker and the author of 19 books on Christianity and relationships under the pen name Marita Littauer, including The Praying Wives Club, Talking So People Will Listen and Tailor-Made Marriage. Her organization, CARE, seeks to communicate "the positive side of the energy industry to the media and the public." Founded by Mark Mathis, a consultant to the Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico, it receives funding from oil and gas producers. The Albuquerque Journal frequently runs Noon's commentaries calling for the elimination of the state's Oil Conservation Division or dismissing the creation of green jobs as "happy talk."
Noon lacks a professional background in energy issues or science. "But as I've learned and understood the issue, it has clearly become a passion for me," she says. "And I really have studied the issue: That everything we hold dear in America is threatened by threats to energy."
She claims that 90 percent of the uranium currently used in the U.S. is imported, most of it from Russia -- "an increasingly unfriendly Russia," at that. That's why it's so important for mining to proceed near Grants, she says in her speeches. "When we have sources to get the base fuel supplies in America, why on earth are we giving our money to foreign countries?"
The TCP designation may not totally block uranium mining, but, she argues, it adds an extra layer of regulation that has driven some companies out. And the people of Grants, which she compares to a Third World country, can't afford to lose this chance for economic development.
Noon has a knack for galvanizing crowds, but her rhetoric has a tendency to be somewhat loose with the facts. According to the federal Energy Information Administration, for example, 86 percent of the uranium used in the U.S. is indeed imported. But nearly half of that, comes from Australia and Canada, while 33 percent comes from Kazakhstan, Russia and Uzbekistan. The Farmington Daily Times and the blog Heath Haussamen on New Mexico Politics have recently pulled Noon's commentaries, citing inaccuracies.
In the case of the TCP, though, Noon didn't need to twist the facts to win people to her cause. The state had botched the process badly enough to help do the job for her.