Democrats have argued for the past few years that voter ID laws are being used by Republicans to create obstacles to voting by minorities, the elderly and others.
But on Monday, the Obama administration said it would require anyone who wants to attend critical environmental hearings later this summer to show a photo ID. The rule raises the question of whether everyone will have a fair shot of attending these hearings, which have the potential to shape environmental policy for the next few decades.
The Environmental Protection Agency, run by Administrator Gina McCarthy, will host hearings this summer on its new carbon rule, but will require photo IDs to attend. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday announced a proposed regulation aimed at curbing carbon emissions from power plants by 30 percent by 2030, and said it would hold four hearings on its controversial proposal in July.
The EPA said photo IDs would be needed to attend these hearings because they will be held in government buildings.
"Because these hearings are being held at U.S. government facilities, individuals planning to attend the hearing should be prepared to show valid picture identification to the security staff in order to gain access to the meeting room," the regulation states. The rule doesn't define what a valid ID is, but the term is generally understood to mean a passport, driver's license, military or other form of government identification card.
A limitation on the right to attend an EPA hearing is unlikely to be viewed by anyone as something as serious as a limitation on the right to vote. However, Democrats' past statements on voter ID laws show that they believe photo ID requirements are a serious burden for minorities and low-income people in particular.
By the same logic, the EPA's photo ID requirement could prevent some of these same people from attending the July hearings on climate change.
For example, the Democrats' 2012 presidential platform said voter ID laws can keep a range of different people from voting at all.
"Democrats know that voter identification laws can disproportionately burden young voters, people of color, low-income families, people with disabilities, and the elderly, and we refuse to allow the use of political pretexts to disenfranchise American citizens," it said.
And in a report on its accomplishments in 2013, the Department of Justice cited its effort to block a "highly restrictive photographic identification law" in Texas. According to Justice, it filed a suit against Texas after finding the law was "intentionally discriminatory and would deny Hispanics and African Americans an equal opportunity to vote."
The ACLU also opposes these photo ID requirements: "Studies suggest that up to 11 percent of American citizens lack such ID, and would be required to navigate the administrative burdens to obtain it or forego the right to vote entirely."
The EPA has planned hearings in Atlanta and Denver on July 29, and a Pittsburgh hearing on July 31. The fourth hearing will be held in Washington, and a date has not been set for that hearing.
The EPA has other rules about how participants are supposed to behave during the hearings, including: "No large signs will be allowed in the building, cameras may only be used outside of the building and demonstrations will not be allowed on federal property for security reasons."