(CN) - Climate change received little attention during the three presidential debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. But the issue has emerged as a focal point behind the scenes in the Hillary Clinton campaign as leaked emails by her campaign chair John Podesta show.
Of the nearly 18,000 emails obtained and disseminated by Wikileaks thus far, about 1,400 of them relate to the topic of climate change. Given Podesta's history as founder and CEO of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress - and the author of a book on climate change - it comes as no surprise that several of his emails address the subject.
But the hacked emails also provide insight into tension in Clinton's campaign as she attempts to balance the demands of climate activists with the desires of union workers, particularly those in the trades, who have traditionally constituted the backbone of the Democratic base.
On Sept. 7, 2015, two months before Obama rejected the fourth phase of the Keystone pipeline project, Clinton addressed the Building Trades Union on the topic. Many in the audience raised concerns about the reluctance of Democrats to not only approve Keystone, but also to rebuild the nation's aging pipeline infrastructure - which would be very lucrative for workers.
Clinton told those in attendance she would defend natural gas and sharply criticized radical climate activists, according to a transcript of the event emailed to Podesta.
"I'm already at odds with the most organized and wildest," Clinton says of activists. "They come to my rallies and they yell at me and, you know, all the rest of it. They say, 'Will you promise never to take any fossil fuels out of the earth ever again?' No. I won't promise that. Get a life, you know. "
Clinton also blamed then-opponent Sen. Bernie Sanders for emboldening radical activists during the question-and answer-session.
"Bernie Sanders is getting lots of support from the most radical environmentalists because he's out there every day bashing the Keystone pipeline," Clinton said, according to the transcript. "And, you know, I'm not into it for that. My view is I want to defend natural gas. I want to defend repairing and building the pipelines we need to fuel our economy. I want to defend fracking under the right circumstances."
Clinton's admission that she is willing to defend certain elements of the fossil fuel industry will spark criticism of Sanders' supporters, many of whom claimed to suspect the former Secretary of State's sincerity when she came out against the Keystone pipeline.
However, she did tell the audience that she was formally opposed to Keystone. But she also said she would support a large infrastructure package aimed at repairing existing pipelines.
"I want to get the right balance," she said.
In an email the day after her speech, Clinton's staff fretted over the possibility of a leak of the meeting, even as they attempted to craft an editorial detailing the reasons behind Clinton's shift from tepid support of the Keystone project to opposition.
"Do we worry that publishing an op-ed that leans this aggressively into our new-found position on Keystone will be greeted cynically and perhaps as part of some manufactured attempt to project sincerity?" Brian Fallon, the Clinton campaign's press secretary, asks in an email.
Joel Beneson, chief strategist for the Clinton camp, also worried about the authenticity problem that surrounded Clinton as it related to Keystone opposition and, frankly, her entire campaign.
"I'm worried that if we don't have something like that we are light on her core values and beliefs on this issue and we are missing those, she risks looking very political, especially on this," Beneson wrote in the email chain on Sept. 8, 2015.
Those looking to bolster their claim that Clinton lacks sincerity and is a political animal without core beliefs will find fodder for their claims in the leaked emails. But others who maintain she is a smart and pragmatic centrist capable of balancing a diversity of perspectives will also find material to back their beliefs.
And Podesta himself seemed to think little of the Keystone issue as an appropriate window into climate change issues, calling it a "chicken shit" issue in an email sent on Nov. 7, 2015, a day after Obama announced he was rejecting the pipeline.
"Now let me tell you what I think about important issues of climate change and clean energy," Podesta wrote.
While Clinton and her camp clearly wrestled with crafting a message that appealed to climate activists without alienating trade workers, nothing in the Podesta emails relating to climate change suggest the campaign wasn't willing to tackle the issue.
In fact, several of the emails concentrate on policy related to climate change, including federal investment in clean energy, building efficiency and other policy items related to the issue.
But the emails do reveal that anyone expecting that an increasingly likely Clinton presidency will feature hard-line stances against fossil fuels, pipeline construction and fracking may come away from the experience disappointed.
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