Today, trial attorney William Kayatta Jr. of Cape Elizabeth is President Barack Obama’s nominee to fill Maine’s seat on the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals, and Democrat Jon Hinck is running for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Olympia Snowe of Maine.

In 2000, Kayatta successfully defended several manufacturers of the gasoline additive MTBE when a state judge dismissed a request for class-action status for a lawsuit seeking to have the manufacturers pay to test 25,000 wells in Maine for contamination — and Hinck represented the plaintiffs.

Kayatta and Hinck traded barbed comments about the decision, according to an Associated Press account at the time.

“The court recognized that these were at best novel and untested claims,” Kayatta said.

Hinck called the ruling a mistake that “doesn’t quite hold up under real-world facts.”

Nonetheless, Hinck, a state representative from Portland, said he supports Kayatta’s nomination.

“I have had the opportunity to see Mr. Kayatta in court and handling complex litigation matters,” Hinck said. “He demonstrates a well-honed understanding of that law that certainly qualifies him for this appointment.”

Hinck said he may have lost that case to Kayatta, but believes the litigation was responsible for Maine adopting policies more strictly regulating the additive.

Spud wars

When an advocacy group praised final federal nutrition standards for the school lunch and breakfast program unveiled last week, it took a shot at the successful campaign to keep potatoes on the plate.

The nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington said that “food industry lobbyists” got Congress to keep the U.S. Department of Agriculture from “limiting french fries.”

Maine lawmakers, especially Republican Sen. Susan Collins, helped lead the charge to protect potatoes, a major Maine crop. Collins and other potato proponents say the vegetable is nutritious in its non-fried form.

Critics say a starch is a starch.

Meanwhile, the potato industry complained last week that the final rules

still discriminate against potatoes for school breakfasts, because they favor fruits and non-starchy vegetables.

Stay tuned for Spud Wars II on Capitol Hill.

Trust but…

Trust but verify.

That was the attitude of Maine lawmakers last week in reacting to the news that the Obama administration and Canada have agreed on a two-year extension of the U.S.-Canada softwood lumber agreement in effect since 2006.

“A return to the conditions prior to the agreement would be devastating for Maine lumber companies, who can compete with anybody when the conditions are equal,” said Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.

But Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District, said that the agreement still must be enforced properly, charging that Canadian violations have hurt sawmills in Maine.

Snowe and GOP Sen. Susan Collins also said tough enforcement is the key to making sure Maine mills don’t have to compete with Canadian lumber sold at unfairly low prices.

Busload lobby

A busload of about 50 people hit Capitol Hill Wednesday to lobby for passage of Rep. Chellie Pingree’s Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act.

The bill includes provisions to ease the building of slaughterhouses to process food locally and helping organic farmers to better reach consumers. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition sent the busload of farmer-lobbyists from its annual meeting in Baltimore, said the office of Pingree, D-1st District.

Pingree’s bill, introduced last fall, has 66 cosponsors. Pingree, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, hopes to attach her legislation to a broader farm bill Congress plans to consider later this year.

Trade unit

When Obama said during his State of the Union speech last week that he was creating a new trade enforcement unit to probe “unfair trade practices” in China and other countries, it had a familiar ring for Rep. Mike Michaud.

Michaud, D-2nd District, chairs the House Trade Working Group, and sent a letter prior to the speech to Obama calling on the president to establish a independent trade enforcement office. It isn’t clear yet how Obama’s unit will operate and how much power it will possess, but Michaud called the initiative “welcome news.”

But Michaud also said last week after the speech that he wants to see if the trade unit “has teeth and the necessary resources to get the job done.”

His office said Michaud knew when he sent the letter on Jan. 23 that the administration was discussing trade enforcement efforts, but didn’t know the unit would be announced during the speech a day later.

Jonathan Riskind — 791-6280

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