George Pyle: The one immutable law of the universe: Money talks

“Math class is tough.”

Teen Talk Barbie

Some stuff is truly hard to get your head around. Even if your head is relatively large to begin with.

Stuff such as how long it takes depleted uranium to transmogrify into something really, really dangerous. The exact level of alcohol a person can have in her blood before becoming a clear and present danger. The degree of dumb that envelopes the operator of a motor vehicle when he is also talking on his smartphone. The environmental and health threats posed by gravel pits and e-cigarettes and higher-alcohol beer and a few million flimsy plastic bags.

But there is one simple rule, a constant of the universe, that is easy to understand and explains a great deal of what happens, in Utah, in Washington, and just about everywhere else.

Money talks.

The most obvious example of that is House Bill 220.

That’s the measure, adopted by both houses of the Utah Legislature and presented to Gov. Gary Herbert, that would allow the EnergySolutions facility in Tooele County to store — well, really, to get bureaucratic permission to store — depleted uranium. That stuff, a byproduct of dividing one kind of uranium from another to make weapons and run power plants, could be shipped into Utah while giving off a relatively low level of radiation. Those levels would grow over, literally, millennia, up to and perhaps beyond the day the sun becomes a red giant and swallows the earth whole.

Previously, that stuff has been illegal to store hereabouts, along with other classes of radioactive trash beyond the level known to scientific bureaucrats and bureaucratic scientists as A level waste. If that changes with Herbert’s signature on HB220, the explanation can hardly be anything other than the fact that EnergySolutions is a big-time contributor to the campaigns of Utah legislators. No other explanation makes any sense.

The company spread $45,000 around the campaign warchests of 40 different lawmakers. All but two of them voted for HB220. That’s not a lot of money in the grand scheme of things, perhaps. But, apparently, it doesn’t take much.

Meanwhile, the Legislature is refusing to make it illegal for adult drivers to handle their precious cellphones while tooling down the road. Even though the smart people at the University of Utah have mounds of data establishing that such behavior poses at least as much of a hazard as does driving under the influence of alcohol.

This is not so much about money, it seems, as there is no known financial campaign by smartphone makers or service providers or anyone else to protect driving while texting. It is just that, in Utah at least, people with the power to make laws think drinking — which most of them don’t do — is icky. But that jabbering while driving — a right held dear by the lawyers and real estate developers who populate the Legislature — is just normal.

Lawmakers are also keen on allowing heavy trucks to start operating on Legacy Highway, stopping local governments from banning gravel pits or plastic bags and doing absolutely nothing to make it harder for people to kill themselves or one another with firearms. And, oh, yes, not paying for normal people to have access to health care.

Again, it is not so much that such tendencies can always be traced to campaign contributions. It’s that our elected officials favor a kind of law of the jungle, where the rich, the well-connected and the well-armed can do what they want and take care of themselves and the rest of us somehow fail to appreciate that less government means more freedom.

If, that is, you have the money to pay for it.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tribune staff. George Pyle.

George Pyle, editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, was really good at math and science until the sixth grade, when it got hard and he switched to history and civics. gpyle@sltrib.com