By Dan Levine
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A lawyer with deep experience fighting climate change will lead California's Department of Justice until the next attorney general takes office, as the state and several others vow to combat global warming despite skepticism from President-elect Donald Trump.
Current California Attorney General Kamala Harris was elected to the U.S. Senate, and Governor Jerry Brown said earlier this month he will nominate U.S. Representative Xavier Becerra to take her place. The choice of Becerra drew widespread praise in California.
In the meantime, Kathleen Kenealy will become acting attorney general when Harris is sworn in to the Senate early next month and while the state legislature mulls Becerra's nomination, according to a memo sent to state employees last week and seen by Reuters.
Kenealy previously served in the department's natural resources section, and defended California regulations on carbon dioxide emissions from motor vehicles. She then led the office's civil division.
Kenealy said in an email to Reuters she was honored by the appointment and looked forward to working on the transition to a new AG.
Trump has expressed skepticism toward the science behind climate change. Since his election, governors of California, Oregon and Washington said they joined a group of U.S. states and countries dedicated to reducing rising acidity in the oceans, a phenomenon tied to climate change that threatens fish, coral reefs and other marine life.
Brown has been particularly outspoken, vowing to launch a satellite from California to track climate change data if the federal government suspends its efforts.
"We got the scientists, we got the lawyers, and we're ready to fight," Brown said in a speech earlier this month.
Becerra's office did not respond to questions about what position Kenealy would occupy if Becerra is confirmed.
Chief Deputy Attorney General Nathan Barankin said Harris informed Becerra of her decision to elevate Kenealy, and Becerra did not object.
"She's one of the best managers we have in the entire department and deeply knowledgeable," Barankin said.
(Editing by Peter Henderson and Matthew Lewis)