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Sludge stays put in West Texas winds

COLLEGE STATION - Breathe easy. New York City sludge spread on a ranch
in windy West Texas isn't stirring pathogens into the air, a new study
has found.

"The most important finding is that the population in Sierra Blanca is
not being impacted by the sludge application," said Dr. Suresh Pillai,
environmental microbiologist at Texas A&M University's Agricultural
Research Center at El Paso. "This sludge application poses little risk
under the conditions."

Sierra Blanca, with a population of about 700 people, is only about
four miles from the ranch site which has been a repository for New York
City sludge since 1993. Pillai studied the location, taking air samples
in the spring and fall of 1995 over an eight-month period, to see if
people were breathing air contaminated by disease-causing organisms.

His lab analyzed the samples for salmonella, fecal coliforms, viruses
and sludge indicators called hydrogen sulfide producers and clostridia,
but no significant amounts of any of those pathogens were found.

"Air quality is the last issue that we didn't have data on," said Bob
Carlile of College Station, technical director for MERCO Joint Venture,
the company which is applying the sludge. "Previous studies have shown
that we are improving the soil, the quality and quantity of vegetation
on the project and that we are not impacting the water. We didn't have
scientific data on the air until now."

Sludge is being applied at a rate of three tons per acre per year to
about 18,000 acres of a 120,000-acre ranch near Sierra Blanca, about 75
miles east of El Paso in the Chihuahuan desert. The Chihuahuan Desert
spreads over some 175,000 square miles in southern New Mexico, the
Trans-Pecos Region of Texas and much of northern Mexico. Some residents
near the site were concerned about the possibility of pathogens becoming
airborne because it is an arid, windy region.

Carlile said that the company will continue to conduct research on the
location because it is the largest biosolids recycling effort - in terms
of land area being used - in the nation.

"It is a controversial project being looked at by a lot of different
people. That's why we're the standard bearer. We are spending tremendous
amounts of dollars to get the answers," he said.

The company also has sought research on the extent to which the applied
sludge is moved off site by wind erosion, according to Dr. B.L. Harris,
Texas Agricultural Extension Service soil specialist.

"The overall amounts of both mineral and organic materials being moved
onto and off the application areas is almost too small to measure,"
Harris reported. "Applying biosolids reduces wind erosion by roughening
the surface, thereby increasing the boundary layer of air just above the
ground surface."

Harris also said the application of biosolids reduces wind erosion
because the material contains nutrients which promoted the growth of
plant species which serve as windbreaks that also filter particulate
matter out of the air as it crosses the site.

"Based on these studies to date, there should be little concern about
potentials for the applied biosolids to be moved offsite by wind,"
Harris said.

Yet because of its location in an arid, windswept region, company
officials wanted to make sure that no pathogens were being stirred up in
the air. At Sierra Blanca, wind speeds of up to 40 miles per hour are
common in the spring.

"With the ban on ocean sludge dumping and the increasing restrictions
on landfills, disposal onto land surfaces becomes almost the only
alternative and is expected to increase in the future," he noted.

Pillai collected air from five locations - upwind, at the
rangeland-population interface, at the old application site, at the
current application site and at the hopper loading site - throughout the
two study periods. The collection devices, called impingers, where
placed on poles and set to collect at a rate similar to the breathing
patterns of humans - about five feet in height and three gallons of air
in 20 minutes.

An average person breathes about 20 cubic meters of air per day.
Microbiological analyses then were performed on the concentrated air
samples at Pillai's El Paso lab.

"We looked for the total numbers of bacteria in the samples, looked for
specific pathogens such as salmonella, then we did some genetic
fingerprinting of airborne clostridia to help us determine their
sources," Pillia said.

He explained that clostridia are bacteria that forms spores. Since
sludges have gone through a heat digestion process, the clostridia
originating from sludges are heat tolerant. So, by comparing the genetic
fingerprint of airborne heat tolerant clostridia with that of the
clostridia isolated directly from the sludges and surrounding soils, it
is possible to identify the sources of airborne clostridia, according to

"This new molecular fingerprinting has tremendous application in doing
exposure studies to trace the origins of airborne bacteria," Pillai
said. "Future studies of this type will need to include the analysis of
clostridia in addition to the other pathogens so that sources could be
Company Accuses AG of Using Political Pressure in Dump Dispute

Morales opposes Merco contract

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AUSTIN, 1992 (AP) The company that wants to dump New York City sewage
sludge in West Texas filed a motion Friday to block Attorney General Dan
Morales from trying to stop the operation.

MERCO Joint Venture accused Morales of exerting ``improper political
pressure'' in his efforts to keep the sludge from being spread in
Hudspeth County, about 90 miles southeast of El Paso.

``It is most disturbing that Mr. Morales, based solely on the hope of
political heroism, seeks to impede a productive, proven and
environmentally-superior solution,'' said George Fore, director of
ranching operations for the Oklahoma-based MERCO.

MERCO filed its motion with U.S. District Judge Lucius Bunton to keep
Morales from stopping their operation. Trial is set for November in
Pecos. The outcome may affect a similar operation planned for Reeves
County by Weldon Reed, Inc. of Amarillo.

On Thursday, Morales asked the Texas Water Commission to review the
permit under which MERCO is operating.

It's not enough just to meet Texas' requirements on the wastes, Morales

Texas law prohibits the disposal of out-of-state sewage sludge that
doesn't meet the more stringent requirements of the two states, which in
this case is New York's, Morales said in a letter to the agency.

``We will not be the dumping ground for the nation. If this sludge is so
beneficial and in full compliance with the state of New York's
regulations, I find it curious that the city of New York would spend
tens of millions of dollars to ship it 1,500 miles instead of spreading
it on their own soil,'' he said.

MERCO officials said they are required only to comply with Texas

Texas cities bid for sludge dumps

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PECOS, 1995 - Sludge application to farm and ranch land in West Texas is
not likely to go away anytime soon, as Texas cities bid for space to
dispose of municipal waste.

Jon Masters, general counsel for MERCO Joint Venture, said that contract
negotiations are underway with New Jersey for sludge disposal. However,
he said transportation costs may prohibit shipping it to their ranch at
Sierra Blanca.

"Money is getting tight," Masters said. "We are going to have to find a
land application closer to the generator."

MERCO is midway through a six-year, $168 million contract to dispose of
New York City sludge on the 128,000-acre ranch.

New York had plans to build eight disposal and treatment plants, but
have decided against building some composting facilities, Masters said.

"They are looking at different alternatives to long-term disposal in New
York to what they originally planned," he said. "It would appear that
New York City is going back to the street with requests for proposals
for long-term application. We anticipate we would be responding to that."

The Sierra Blanca ranch has thousands of acres still untouched by
sludge, and a Texas Tech University study has determined it would be
beneficial to the land if a second application is made on the rangeland,
Masters said.

Tech is in its third year of evaluation on the Sierra Blanca project.

"The scientific results are all very positive," Masters said. "We have a
whole lot more land than we have fertilizer to fertilize it. But is it
economical to transport it from the east coast?"

MERCO is interested in getting Texas sludge, Masters said.

"We are persuing potential Texas generators. We have to evaluate their
product (before contracting)," he said.

The Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission has approved MERCO's
registration for New York City sludge only. Any additional sources would
have to be approved by the commission, he said.

He sees no problem with getting approval.

"We have had only one episode that caused us a problem with TNRCC," he
said. "They seem to feel like we are probably a good project."

MERCO paid a fine about 1½ years ago for applying sludge that failed to
meet TNRCC requirements.

"Beyond that, we have a decent relationship," Masters said. "As long as
the sludge meets all standards, I can't see any reason why they would
deny it."

Weldon Reed of Amarillo, who proposed applying sludge to Reeves County
farmland, said he is still in contact with municipalities in Texas with
an eye to obtaining sludge.

"If we do anything, it will be with them," he said.

Texas cities are building treatment plants and have clean sludge for
disposal, he said. He expects eastern states to begin applying their own
sludge for beneficial use instead of shipping it to Texas.

"Those states back there are really on the ball," he said.

Jaroy Moore, superintendent of the Texas A&M Research Station, said he
never got a reply to his proposal to the TNRCC for a grant to apply
sludge on cotton farmland at the station for research purposes.

"I have no plans to do anything else," he said.

Reeves County faces sludge issue

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PECOS, Aug. 1992 - Citizens interested in commenting on five
applications by Weldon Reed, Inc. to apply treated wastewater sludge to
five sites in Reeves County are invited to attend a public meeting at 7
p.m. Sept. 3 in the Reeves County Civic Center.

The meeting was originally scheduled for Aug. 6 but cancelled due to a
scheduling conflict, said Helen Pitts for the Texas Water Commission,
who will conduct the hearing.

Reed has submitted applications to apply sludge to 7,980 acres near
Verhalen. The sludge will be tilled into the soil to utilize sludge
nutrients in the production of cotton and forage crops at the rate of
seven dry tons per acre.

Proposed sites are:

- 5,000 acres located 1.5 miles south of Verhalen on the west side of
State Highway 17;

- 1,340 acres located 3.5 miles west of Verhalen;

- 590 acres located northwest of Verhalen on the west side of State
Highway 17;

- 570 acres located two miles north of Verhalen on the west side of
State Highway 17; and

- 480 acres located four miles north of Verhalen and 1.5 miles east of
State Highway 17.

Copies of Reed's applications are on file in the Reeves County Library,
office of county clerk; and at the TWC field office in Odessa.

MERCO says it got hatchet job

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Staff Writer

PECOS, Mar. 4, 1996 - Tri-Star Television did "a hatchet job to gain
fame, publicity and profits" in producing and broadcasting a segment
titled "Sludge Train" a federal court jury heard this morning.

Joseph Tydings, lead attorney for Merco Joint Venture, said the company
was damaged by the story, which appeared on NBC-TV affiliates Aug. 2,

Merco is applying New York sewage sludge to a 128,000-acre ranch they
purchased near Sierra Blanca for that purpose. Calling the sludge
biosolids for beneficial use, the New York company gave Texas Tech
University a $1.5 million grant to study the results.

"Tech has an ongoing research project on the ranch since it opened," he
said. "They have over 3,000 plots, testing every day the effect of

The project has received national and international acclaim, Tydings
said. Soil leaders from China, Africa and Mexico have visited the ranch,
and students from Tech are being trained there.

He said that producers for Tri-Star Television laid out a plan for the
"Sludge Train" segment of a "TV Nation" show before anyone visited the
project, quoting from internal memos that called it the "shit-train

"They ignored all the claims the ranch land was being restored," he
said. "They didn't even talk to the Tech scientists working there."

Content of the show was directly contrary to the findings made in
litigation before Chief Judge Lucius Bunton in a lawsuit filed by Texas
Attorney General Dan Morales in an attempt to stop the sludge
application before it started in 1992, Tydings said.

"He ruled against Texas and permitted the project to go forward,"
Tydings said.

Film producer says sludge train story humorous

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Staff Writer

Journalists and media should be more honest that they do have opinions,
film producer Michael Moore told a federal court jury this morning.

Moore's "Dog-Eat-Dog" company produced the "Sludge Train" segment of a
"TV Nation" broadcast that is the subject of a libel suit filed by Merco
Joint Venture.

"TV Nation" was a humorous, "dealing with issues" series that aired on
NBC affiliates in the summer of 1994, Moore said. It earned him an Emmy
as an outstanding informational series.

He said the general idea for the sludge segment was to do something with
garbage and pollution.

"My original idea was a garbage barge. We made inquiries if we could
ride a garbage barge, but couldn't. Them someone found out about the
sludge train from New York," he said.

Since it was not a news show, the program did not require the same
journalistic ethics as a documentary, Moore said.

"People liked the show mostly because it was humourous and it had
substance to it. It dealt with things people were concerned about," he

Questioned by Merco attorney Joseph Tydings about Sierra Blanca
businessman Bill Addington's statements on the show that his lumberyard
was burned down because of his opposition to sludge, Moore said it was
not necessary to present evidence that Merco did not commit arson.

"I don't think evidence was the point. That's how he felt," Moore said.

"Do you believe it is possible to deceive the listening public by
purposefully withholding information which contradicts the story line
that your show is trying to present?" asked Tydings.

"No," Moore said..."The fact that it was not there says `this is how he
believes.' It is his feelings, but we are not going to take a position
on that."

Tydings asked Moore if TriStar Television, who commissioned the TV
Nation series, later gave him a 26-month contract with an undisclosed
salary, "regardless of whether of not you ever produced another show?"

"That's crazy, isn't it? Yeah," said Moore.

"You are almost like a movie star in the old days under contract with a
studio?" asked Tydings.

"If you say I'm like a movie star, I think your credibility is in
question," said the hulking, bearded producer, evoking laughter from

As to the sludge segment of TV Nation, Moore said he may have spent less
than five hours working on it. He said he developed the story line and
viewed rough cuts of the final segment.

"You knew there was a charge of poisoning the people of Texas?" asked

"Does it say that? The show took that position? I think you are
misrepresenting the entire piece. That's not what it is about," Moore

"Do you think references to that in the piece would require additional
investigation?" asked Tydings.

"It was enough for me that many people of the town seemed to be upset
about the sludge process," Moore said.

Hugh Kaufman, an employee of the Environmental Protection Agency, made
the remark about New York sludge poisoning the people of Texas. He
testified most of Thursday, admitting that the EPA docked his salary for
the time he spend investigating Merco.

"I think it is o.k. for people to have a specific point of view," Moore
said, using William Buckley's conservative "National Review" and Jim
Hightower's liberal radio show as examples.

"That's all part of the journalistic mix, and it is healthy in a
democracy to take a position and state their beliefs. I don't think it
is the responsibility of either side to have to present all sides of the
story. It is enough to say, `this is what I believe and this is why,'"
Moore said.

Peter Kinoy, testifying by deposition, said that he edited the videotape
at the direction of Fran Alswang, the producer who researched,
interviewed and directed the filming.

The first process is to select film segments that best visually and
audibly tell the story as you understand it, he said. Those are
assembled into a rough cut that is twice as long as the final story, he

Moore's comments on the rough cut were followed in further editing, he

Mitch Singer, a lawyer for TriStar, said he advised the company on all
legal matters relating to the show. After viewing the rough cut, he
recommended editing out the word "dump" from Addington's statement about
his opposition to sludge, "to make it asbsolutely clear no one is
identifiable as committing arson."

As to Kaufman's statements, Singer said Alswang told him that Kaufman
was a person with EPA who had knowledge of Merco and that he was
investigating a potential hazardous waste site at Sierra Blanca.

Singer said he knew of no statements on the Sludge Train segment that
were false or probably false.

Merco claims the show damaged their reputation and future business deals.

EPA maverick says sludge poison

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Staff Writer

Seven Sierra Blanca High School senior history and legal studies
students got a lesson in courtroom procedure Tuesday when they attended
the sludge-TV trial underway in federal court.

Merco Joint Venture, who is applying New York City sludge (aka
biosolids) to a Sierra Blanca ranch, claims they were slandered by a "TV
Nation" broadcast Aug. 2, 1994.

Hugh Kaufman, an employee of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
said on the broadcast that Merco is poisoning the people of Texas. Under
questioning by Merco lawyers this morning, Kaufman denied that the EPA
has ordered him not to speak on their behalf.

"I can speak on areas where I have official authority," he said.

His authority is in the area of toxic waste cleanup under the EPA
Superfund program, he said.

Sludge is not toxic waste, but biosolids approved by the EPA and Texas
Natural Resources Conservation Commission for beneficial use, said
George Fore, Merco ranch manager in his testimony Tuesday.

Sludge application has probably quadrupled grazing capacity, Fore said.
He and two investors formed Porvenir Cattle Co. to graze the acreage on
a lease basis and to manage wildlife. The mule deer population has
doubled, and antelope has tripled, he said.

Merco invested $1.5 million in a railroad spur to receive the sludge,
plus a storage shed the size of two football fields to hold sludge when
it rains, he said.

They also constructed a washing station to clean the containers after
sludge is dumped and built dirt berms to contain runoff around the shed
and wash rack.

Fore said he was "acutely disappointed" by the TV Nation broadcast
because it misrepresented the character of the project, and "no one was
allowed to speak for Merco on the beneficial use program."

Fran Alswang, producer of the segment, "Sludge Train," interviewed him
for over two hours, but did not use any of the interview in the show, he

The show had a chilling effect on Merco's future projects, he said. "It
threw cold water on some political relationships. It made it much more
difficult for a public figure to take a position for recycling
biosolids... It made it appear environmentally dangerous and that
dishonest, law-breaking companies were conducting it," he said.

Officials with TNRCC had privately agreed to lift restrictions on
grazing cattle on the land, but after the show were hesitant to do so.
They finally did approve it, though.

Fore said he recommended that Merco not go forward with two planned
projects in New York as a result of the show.

Under cross examination, Fore said that the sludge Merco applies is 25
percent solids and 75 percent liquid. That means that on one acre, three
tons of solids and 12 tons of water is applied.

Asked if the 12 tons of water in itself would make the grass grow, Fore

"Twelve tons of water probably is not enough to wet the carpet in this
courtroom," he said. "It doesn't hurt anything."

The moisture is gone after 24 hours, and the solids remain in chunks on
the ground for two years or more.

Asked if the wind will blow it around, Fore said "No."

"I imagine the jury has seen cow chips, and I doubt they ever saw any of
them flying through the air," he said, evoking laughter from spectators
and Senior Judge Lucius Bunton.

Ed Wagner, formerly employed by the New York City Department of
Environmental Protection, said that waste water is treated for several
months before it is shipped out as beneficial biosolids.

Recent changes in the treatment process remove most of the harmful
elements, such as heavy metals and pathogens, he said.

His explanation of the process for Alswang's cameras was not made a part
of the "Sludge Train" show.

Dr. Ron Sosebee, chairman of range, wildlife and fisheries department at
Texas Tech University, said he administers Tech's research program at
the Merco ranch.

Merco gave Tech a $1.6 million grant to conduct the research he said.
That grant was used to influence the TNRCC's approval of Merco's sludge
registration, he said.

The six-year research project is devoted to soil and plant response to
biosolid application, he said. No strings are attached to the grant.

Annual reports are made to Merco on results of the research, and they
are available by mail to anyone who requests them, Sosebee said. Results
to date have been positive, he said.

Seven graduate students each have their own project, which they will use
for their doctoral dissertations, he said. Two resident scientists live
on the site.

The research has drawn interest from several countries, and a proposal
has been submitted for collaboration with China on the same type of
project, he said.

"Everything we are finding certainly has implications througout the
world," he said.

MERCO wants to send media message: tell the truth

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Staff Writer

PECOS, Mar. 8, 1996 - Attorneys for Merco Joint Venture, TriStar
Television and Hugh Kaufman spent the morning summing up evidence
presented over the past four days in the federal court trial over a
"Sludge Train" story.

Merco claims they were damaged the tune of $30.4 million and asked for
an additional $30 million to send a message that the media cannot
publish stories they know to be false and defamatory.

Kaufman, an EPA whistle blower, has the right under the first amendment
to the U.S. Constitution to state his belief that the sludge Merco is
applying on a Sierra Blanca ranch is poisoning the people and is an
"illegal haul and dump operation," said his attorney, Martha Evans.

Dan Davison said that TriStar Television has the right to air Kaufman's
statements and those of Sierra Blanca residents who oppose sludge
application in their backyard.

The "TV Nation" production that triggered the suit won an Emmy award
for its producer, Michael Moore.

That Emmy was the motivation for the piece, said Joseph Tydings,
representing Merco. He said the "hatchet job" was outlined in a writer's
game plan memo early in the project, and the final product followed the
suggested story line, he said.

Davison denied there was a game plan, citing Moore's testimony that the
story was his idea and Fran Alswang's testimony that the story line
developed as she researched and interviewed people.

Merco called 23 witnesses, but presented no evidence that it had been
damaged, and their motivation for filing the suit was to send a message
that they will attack corporations and citizens who speak out against
them, he said.

Economist Wayne Ruhter testified that Merco is making more money than
they did before the show, Davison said.

Testimony on both sides of the issue proves that land application of
sludge is controversial, and public discussion of controverisal issues
is vital, he said, pointing to the banning of DDT, asbestos and lead in
gasoline and paint.

"Those are things at one point in our past the government scientists
thought were safe," he said. "but at some point they started to disagree
and it became public. It was debated and science went forward."

Tydings said the issue is not first amendment rights to express an
opinion, but libel.

The tort of libel protects the right of all citizens to keep their good
name and reputation without fear of reckless, wanton lies, he said.

"That's a tremendously important right...We believe in free speech with
all our hearts. But with free speech is responsibility to tell the
truth," he said.

"If the First Amendment is being eroded, it is being eroded from within
by the few journalists who hide behind it," he said. "We agree they have
the right to express an opinion, but they don't have the right to lie
about us; broadcast false statements."

False statements alluded to were Bill Addington's statement that someone
set fire to his lumberyard because of his opposition to sludge and to
Kaufman's claims of poisoning and illegal dumping.

Evans told the jury their decision would have a far-reaching effect.

"We live in a world of big government and big corporations, and we need
someone on the inside like Hugh Kaufman to let us know what's going on."

Lewis Herrin, an employee of the Texas Natural Resources Conservation
Commission, testified Thursday that he would not have approved Merco's
application for sludge registration had he known they were not qualified
to business in Texas at the time, she said.

Herrin also found the sludge did not comply with New York's regulations
on the use of copper, but "he was under orders to process Merco's
application as quickly as possible," she said.

Kaufman believed the Merco operation was illegal in Texas then, and that
application of heavy metals is a long-term health risk to the people of
Sierra Blanca, she said.

Merco has a $168 million contract to accept New York City sludge for six
years. New York officials have indicated they will renew the contract
when it expires in 1968, Davison said.

Kaufman, TriStar to appeal $5 million verdict

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Staff Writer

PECOS, Mar. 11, 1996 - Hugh Kaufman, an Environmental Protection Agency
whistle blower, and TriStar Television Inc. are expected to appeal a $5
million verdict returned Friday by a federal jury at the close of a
week-long trial in the Pecos Division courtroom.

The jury found that Kaufman and TriStar defamed Merco Join Venture in a
"TV Nation" segment titled "Sludge Train" on Aug. 2, 1994; that the
defamatory statements were false and made with malice.

False, commercially disparaging statements were made on the program, and
Kaufman and TriStar knew it, the jury found. They awarded Merco $1 in
actual damages from each of the defendants.

They awarded punitive damages of $500,000 against Kaufman, who said on
the show that Merco's application of New York sludge on a Sierra Blanca
ranch is an illegal haul and dump operation which is poisoning the
people of Texas.

TriStar should pay Merco $4.5 million for broadcasting the statements,
the jury decided.

Punitive damages send a message to others that they cannot libel the
good name of an individual or company, said Joseph Tydings, Merco's lead

``I think the jury was deeply offended that a program such as this would
receive any Emmy,'' Tydings told the Associated Press following the
verdict. ``I think it was reflected in the punitive damages.''

Kaufman, who said he planned to appeal, said his statements were true
and should have been legally protected opinion.

``The jury ruled that my making a statement based on that opinion was
malice,'' he said. ``If I had a newspaper in Texas, I'd shut down the
editorial page.''

Merco claimed the show damaged its reputation and put future business
deals into jeopardy.

Film producer Michael Moore said ``TV Nation'' was a humorous series
``dealing with the issues'' that aired briefly on NBC affiliates in
summer 1994. The series earned Moore an Emmy as an outstanding
informational series.

Testifying earlier this week, Moore said the general idea for the sludge
segment was to do something with garbage and pollution.

``My original idea was a garbage barge,'' Moore said. ``We made
inquiries if we could ride a garbage barge, but couldn't. Then someone
found out about the sludge train from New York.''

Moore contended that since the show was not a news show, the program did
not have to adhere to the same journalistic ethics as a documentary.

``People liked the show mostly because it was humorous and it had
substance to it,'' Moore testified. ``It dealt with things people were
concerned about.''

Moore first gained fame with a humorous documentary film, ``Roger and
Me,'' in which he sought to talk to General Motors chairman Roger Smith
about the closing of an automobile plant in Moore's hometown in

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