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Overnight Energy: Biden names John Kerry as 'climate czar' | GM reverses on Trump, exits suit challenging California's tougher emissions standards | United Nations agency says greenhouse gas emissions accumulating despite lockdown decline

Overnight Energy: Biden names John Kerry as 'climate czar' | GM reverses on Trump, exits suit challenging California's tougher emissions standards | United Nations agency says greenhouse gas emissions accumulating despite lockdown decline
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HAPPY MONDAY! Welcome to Overnight Energy, The Hill's roundup of the latest energy and environment news. Please send tips and comments to Rebecca Beitsch at rbeitsch@thehill.com. Follow her on Twitter: @rebeccabeitsch. Reach Rachel Frazin at rfrazin@thehill.com or follow her on Twitter: @RachelFrazin.

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KERRYING BIDEN’S CLIMATE POLICY: President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenFear of insider attack prompts additional FBI screening of National Guard troops: AP Iran convicts American businessman on spying charge: report DC, state capitals see few issues, heavy security amid protest worries MORE on Monday named former Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryFor Joe Biden, an experienced foreign policy team Biden's trade policy needs effective commercial diplomacy Biden taps ex-Obama aide Anita Dunn as senior adviser MORE as special envoy to lead his administration’s efforts to fight climate change.

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Kerry will be the “climate czar” for the incoming administration, coordinating programs that are expected to stretch across multiple agencies while leading efforts at a White House that may need to look for avenues beyond Congress to advance climate priorities.

“America will soon have a government that treats the climate crisis as the urgent national security threat it is. I'm proud to partner with the president-elect, our allies, and the young leaders of the climate movement to take on this crisis as the President's Climate Envoy,” Kerry wrote on Twitter.

The position will be embedded on the National Security Council (NSC), a sign of the gravity with which the administration views the issue.

“This marks the first time that the NSC will include an official dedicated to climate change, reflecting the president-elect’s commitment to addressing climate change as an urgent national security issue,” the Biden transition team said in a statement announcing Kerry’s selection among other top security officials. His role will not require Senate confirmation.

The transition team said Kerry’s position “will be matched” by a high-level White House climate policy coordinator who will be announced next month.

Kerry’s diplomatic background will be an asset for Biden, who has pledged to rejoin the Paris climate accord on day one of his presidency and who wants to take a leadership role on an issue that has been largely ignored by the Trump administration over the last four years.

“Secretary Kerry elevated environmental challenges as diplomatic priorities, from oceans to hydrofluorocarbons. He was a key architect of the Paris Climate Accord, and signed the historic agreement to reduce carbon emissions with his granddaughter on his lap,” the Biden transition team said in a release.

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The special envoy position would have Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004 and former senator from Massachusetts, playing a key role in implementing Biden’s $2 trillion climate plan, which calls for reaching net zero emissions by 2050 and requires a massive investment in clean energy, weatherization and efforts to green the transportation sector.

Read more about the announcement here. 

PUT IT IN REVERSE: The upcoming change in administrations has led to a change of heart for one of the nation’s largest automakers.

General Motors will no longer be siding with the Trump administration in a legal battle to hinder California’s ability to set tougher vehicle emissions standards.

In a letter to environmental groups involved in the same suit, General Motors said they have withdrawn from the litigation, citing the incoming Biden administration as well as their own plans to electrify their suite of vehicles.

“We believe the ambitious electrification goals of the President-elect, California, and General Motors are aligned to address climate change by drastically reducing automobile emissions. We are confident that the Biden administration, California, and the U.S. auto industry, which supports 10.3 million jobs, can collaboratively find the pathway that will deliver an all-electric future,” General Motors wrote in the letter.

“To better foster the necessary dialogue, we are immediately withdrawing from the preemption litigation and inviting other automakers to join us," the company continued.

With the exit of General Motors, Toyota and Fiat Chrysler are left on the suit, as is the Coalition for Sustainable Automotive Regulation, which also includes Nissan, Hyundai, Kia, Isuzu, Maserati and Ferrari, among others.

Toyota suggested it was weighing its role in the litigation. 

“Given the changing circumstances, we are assessing the situation. In the meantime, we will continue to comply with all California and Federal fuel economy and greenhouse gas regulations,” the company said in a statement.

None of the other companies responded to request for comment.

The suit — one of many resulting from the Trump administration’s actions rolling back fuel efficiency standards — came shortly after President TrumpDonald TrumpIran convicts American businessman on spying charge: report DC, state capitals see few issues, heavy security amid protest worries Pardon-seekers have paid Trump allies tens of thousands to lobby president: NYT MORE revoked a waiver that for decades allowed California to craft tougher emissions standards that were in turn adopted by more than a dozen other states.

Read more about GM’s decision here. 

STRONG CONCENTRATION: The coronavirus-related drop in emissions hasn’t made much of a dent in the amount of heat-trapping emissions accumulating in the atmosphere, according to a Monday report from a United Nations agency.

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Researchers earlier this year predicted that emissions across the globe could drop by as much as 8 percent due to the virus-related lockdowns and slowing of daily activities.

But as carbon pollution remains trapped in the atmosphere for centuries, the report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said the drop in emissions will have little impact on total concentrations.

“The lockdown has cut emissions of many pollutants and greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. But any impact on CO2 concentrations - the result of cumulative past and current emissions - is in fact no bigger than the normal year to year fluctuations,” the report stated.

Emissions dropped by as much as 17 percent during the height of the pandemic, with planes grounded, ships docked and commutes dissolved as people worked from home and many businesses were shuttered.

However, the WMO referred to this year as a “tiny blip,” adding that since 1990 there has been a 45 percent increase in the warming effect on the climate due to greenhouse gases.

Read more about the situation here

DRILLING DOWN ON THE LEGAL ISSUES: President-elect Joe Biden faces several obstacles to fulfilling his pledge to work toward “permanently protecting” the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but he’ll also have a few executive tools at his disposal that could thwart drilling across large parts of the Alaskan wilderness.

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Biden’s climate plan, released during the campaign, included a promise to protect the 1.6 million acres in Alaska that were opened up to oil drilling during the Trump administration.

But unlike many Trump-era policies that Biden aims to undo unilaterally through executive action, the authorization for drilling along the Alaskan refuge coastal plain became federal law through the GOP’s 2017 tax-cut bill, which required two oil and gas lease sales in the refuge by the end of 2024.

Still, there are some avenues Biden can pursue to reduce drilling or make it more difficult for the fossil fuel industry.

Some of those options will be determined by whether the Trump administration is successful in completing one of the lease sales before Biden takes office on Jan. 20.

Read about the legal tools Biden may have at his disposal here. 

YOU’VE GOT MAIL: The delay in providing President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team with government funding “poses serious risk to Native American families across the country,” according to Sen. Tom UdallTom UdallSenate swears-in six new lawmakers as 117th Congress convenes We can achieve our democratic ideals now by passing the For the People Act Haaland nomination generates excitement in Native American communities MORE (D-N.M.), the latest in a string of lawmakers to push the General Services Administration (GSA) to certify Biden as the winner of the election.

As President Trump refuses to concede weeks after the election was called, GSA Administrator Emily Murphy has thus far refused to give Biden the nod, a move that not only delays funding but limits the president-elect’s ability to coordinate with current government officials.

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Udall fears that could have a significant impact on Native Americans, for whom the federal government often plays a critical role in providing a number of services, particularly within reservations.

Udall, who has worked on Native American issues for much of his roughly 30 years in Congress, is on Biden’s shortlist to serve as the next Interior secretary. The role includes overseeing the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Udall’s letter joins those from other lawmakers who have also been warning of the risks in various policy areas if the Biden team is not afforded transition support.

“Failing to do so risks the health and safety of millions of Americans as the nation grapples with a pandemic that continues to grow more severe every week,” Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperWhite House intervened to weaken EPA guidance on 'forever chemicals' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Capitol in Chaos | Trump's Arctic refuge drilling sale earns just fraction of GOP prediction | EPA finds fuel efficiency dropped, pollution spiked for 2019 vehicles EPA finalizes 'secret science' rule, limiting use of public health research MORE (D-Del.), ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, wrote in a letter to GSA.

Read more about the letter here. 

WHAT WE’RE READING:

Public Transit, Battered by Pandemic, Triumphs at Ballot Box, Stateline reports

New California law banning toxic chemicals in cosmetics will transform industry, the San Francisco Chronicle reports 

Plotting future, U.S. biofuel industry seeks federal clean fuel program from Biden, Reuters reports

Why is Joe Biden considering Ernie Moniz to help fight the climate crisis? The Guardian reports

The fossil fuel industry wants you to believe it’s good for people of color, The Los Angeles Times reports

ICYMI: Stories from Monday and over the weekend…

Trump tells G-20 world leaders that Paris climate accord was 'designed to kill the American economy'

Dozens of oil and gas companies agree to methane reduction targets

Biden faces uphill battle to 'permanently' protect Alaska wildlife refuge

GM reverses on Trump, exits suit challenging California's tougher emissions standards

Biden names John Kerry as 'climate czar' in new administration

United Nations agency says greenhouse gas emissions accumulating despite decline during Biden faces uphill battle to 'permanently' protect Alaska wildlife refuge

GSA transition delay 'poses serious risk' to Native Americans, Udall says

FROM THE HILL’S OPINION PAGES:

Biden should establish a carbon price benchmark writes Joseph Aldy, who served as President Obama’s special assistant for Energy and the Environment.

Andrew Garman a professor of health systems management at Rush University, writes in favor of “addressing the urgency now” on climate