Climate Activist Dies After Setting Himself on Fire at Supreme Court

A man set himself on fire in front of the Supreme Court in an apparent Earth Day protest against climate change.  The Colorado man, Wynn Bruce, 50, died from his injuries after being airlifted to a hospital. 

Climate scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund and Zen Buddhist priest in Boulder, Kritee Kanko, said that it was a planned act of protest. 

The act happened at the plaza in front of the Supreme Court. The top court had heard arguments that day on an important environmental case that could restrict or potentially even completely eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to control pollution. 

The court, which has a conservative majority, previously voiced skepticism about the EPA’s authority to regulate carbon emissions. If they do vote to eliminate their power to do so, the decision would be a sharp blow to the White House’s efforts to address climate change. 

Bruce was a Buddhist, and experts say that he set himself on fire in an apparent imitation of Vietnamese monks who burned themselves to death in protest during the Vietnam War. 

The court case is the most important environmental case that has been heard in the U.S. in more than a decade. President Joe Biden plans to halve the nation’s greenhouse emissions by the end of the decade at 2030, which experts and scientists have long warned is necessary to prevent the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. 

If the Supreme Court decides that the EPA does not have the authority to control pollution, it could handcuff the government’s ability to affordably reduce greenhouse gasses. Repercussions could stretch much further beyond air pollution, restricting federal agencies’ abilities to regulate other things, such as workplace safety, health care, telecommunications, the financial sector, and more. 

Experts warn that if the court requires the EPA to adopt a specific, narrow direction to address greenhouse gasses, other agencies would not be able to enact rules that safeguard public health and welfare. 

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