Equifax Settlement, Wildfire Fund Lawsuit, Making Waves In Climate Research
KPBS Midday Edition / July 22, 2019
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra weighs in on the $600 million settlement Equifax is expected to pay in fines and monetary relief to consumers over its 2017 data breach. Also, a ratepayer lawsuit claims that a new California wildfire fund law unconstitutional, San Diego scientists make waves in climate research, a beehive invention looks to backyard beekeepers to save dying bees, and how to make sure you’re taking proper care of your pet.
Speaker 1: 00:00 A $600 million settlement with the credit reporting bureau. Equifax was announced today two years ago. Hackers stole sensitive information on 147 million Equifax customers in one of the nation's worst data breaches. Information stolen included social security numbers and birth dates and drivers license numbers. California Attorney General Javier Viscera announced California's participation in the settlement today, which includes an $18 million penalty payment to the state and attorney general of A. Sarah joins us now. Welcome Helen. Thank you. Now who is eligible to receive compensation from this settlement?
Speaker 2: 00:39 If you were effected by this data breach by Equifax, then you can apply to receive compensation for any costs you suffered out of pocket to try to address the breach.
Speaker 1: 00:51 What do people have to document to claim compensation?
Speaker 2: 00:54 You essentially have to show that in fact you were impacted. You had to go out and secure a credit freeze on your credit, or you had to seek monitoring of your credit reports and you paid for that. Or in some cases, unfortunately for some people, identity thieves took your information and stole your privacy and took advantage of it and you had to pay money to take care of restoring your credit.
Speaker 1: 01:22 Is there evidence that indeed information stolen from this date of breach has been used to commit credit fraud?
Speaker 2: 01:29 I know that there were consumers who had filed cases in court ready to make the case that they had been impacted by having their data stolen.
Speaker 1: 01:37 Have investigators been able to determine who committed this hack into Equifax?
Speaker 2: 01:42 So with 150 million people affected, I don't think we're going to know the depth of this breach for each of those 150 or 147 million Americans, but we do know that they were impacted and that's why this fund was created to give all of those people a chance to get paid back for any costs they incurred, but trying to figure out specifically how and where and why and how many would be difficult, and that's why the settlement is a global settlement.
Speaker 1: 02:12 I see. You know, a lot of times when these data breaches occur, it can be traced to someone in a foreign country or, or at least investigators know where the hacking came from. In this case, it remains unknown.
Speaker 2: 02:25 It remains, uh, disclosed publicly. Maybe somebody knows, uh, but it's not yet been said publicly who the, uh, the hackers were.
Speaker 1: 02:35 How was Equifax at fault in this incident?
Speaker 2: 02:39 Equifax should have taken measures that could have, but should have taken measures to patch the deficiencies in its systems that allowed the breach to occur. It didn't. And as a result, hackers went in and were able to access the private information. 147 million Americans. And so Equifax owed those Americans. It owes all of us who it maintains credit histories for that duty of, uh, privacy and protection. And if failed in that regard.
Speaker 1: 03:14 And what kind of changes do you know has the company made to ensure that this won't happen again?
Speaker 2: 03:19 Well, the type of patch and security measures that would have prevented this hack are the type of measures that now Equifax is compelled to undertake in this settlement. They have agreed that they will undertake the types of measures that would have stopped a breach like this from occurring. They also will now provide to those Americans who come forward who are affected by this breach, uh, free credit reporting, uh, for the next 10 years. The credit credit monitoring that they would otherwise have to pay for. They will now get free from Equifax and it will include a credit monitoring, not just by Equifax as a, um, credit monitoring, um, bureau, but by the other two credit reporting agencies as well. Equifax will cover those costs.
Speaker 1: 04:11 Attorney General was Sarah, how will California use the 18 million? It's getting in the settlement
Speaker 2: 04:17 with the 18 point $7 million that California receives in penalties. We will continue to investigate and prosecute cases just like this. Uh, the ability for California's Department of Justice to go after Equifax to make sure it, it made our citizens hole was made possible by the penalty dollars that we received from previous cases. It should not be, uh, at the taxpayer's dime that we, uh, go after those who violate the law. We should have the violators pay for the breaches in the future. And that's why we use those penalties to go after those to investigate, go after those who might in the future violate consumer's law. Uh, privacy laws.
Speaker 1: 04:59 You know, critics say this settlement and amount is not enough even though it's $600 million because it won't deter other credit bureaus from being lax about security. They say it's only less than one typical quarter of sales for Equifax. How do you respond to that?
Speaker 2: 05:16 I think that, uh, anytime you have anyone, whether it's an individual or a company, have to pay $600 million that they were not expecting to, it makes you think. We also have to make sure that when we go to court, we can prove up the damages. It's not just a matter of, uh, trying to punish Equifax cause we don't like what they did. We have to prove up that in fact people were harmed. And so, uh, to some degree this settlement reflects the type of harm that p book could prove up. And to some degree, it's also a case that we were able to prove up that Equifax committed violations of law that it shouldn't have and therefore should be penalized. And finally, if they don't already know, how do consumers find out if their information was part of this data breach? That's the war in perhaps the most important thing is we want people to, to know that they have now some rights to try to get some of the relief if they suffered from the, the breach itself by Equifax.
Speaker 2: 06:19 We, if you'd like, I can give the a toll free number that people can call or, and I can give the website that can be used to find out how to file a claim to be able to recuperate some money, uh, to compensate for your loss. The toll free number would be a (833) 759-2982 or folks can go on the website that has been established for this. That would be www.equifaxbreachsettlementoneword.com. Again, ww dot Equifax breach settlement.com I've been speaking with Attorney General Javier Bissera, and thank you so much for your time, Maureen. Thank you for helping get the word out to folks.
Speaker 3: 07:13 Uh.
Speaker 1: 00:00 A lawsuit challenging state legislation that changes the way utility companies pay for the cost of wildfires. Collins by their equipment was filed on Friday, the legislation would create a $21 billion wildfire fund that utility companies can use to pay for wildfire damage. Half would be funded by rate payers and half by utility companies. The lawsuit was filed by San Diego attorneys, Michael, a Geary and Maria Seaverson and Maria Seaverson joins us now. Maria, welcome.
Speaker 2: 00:30 Thank you.
Speaker 1: 00:30 I've heard people who oppose this legislation referred to it as a bailout for utility companies. But you're doing, because you believe a 10 54 is unconstitutional. How do you believe it violates the constitution?
Speaker 2: 00:43 Ab 10 54 violates a constitution in several ways. It violates the United States constitution because it opposes upon, it's, uh, the citizens and taxpayers of the state of California charges for wildfires without the utilities having first proven that their rates are Justin reasonable. The bill switches the burden of proof to the rate payers instead of the utilities. Uh, there's been longstanding a case law where the utilities, I've had to show that when they want to pass rates onto their rate payers, they have to show their rates are just unreasonable. With this new bill ab 10 54, the burden is now put on the rate payers to show that there's serious doubts. So it's presumed reasonable if they get some new safety certificates or you've come up with and then after that the burden is heavily on the shoulders of the rate payers.
Speaker 1: 01:44 And I know you've, you've expressed that you, you feel it violates due process rights of consumers. Can you explain what due process rights it violates?
Speaker 2: 01:52 Sure. The due process rights are pertained to that. When the public has a right to participate in the process. Where are these types of assessments or these type of charges are imposed against them? So for instance, right now the C PUC, the California public utility commission, if a utility and investor owned utility wants to charge Rae payers, it has to go to the commission. And then the public, whether it be individually or through advocacy groups can challenge or comment or participate in those proceedings. There's often trials, there's evidence there sworn testimony, that's all gone. Now this new process allows the utility to, once they get a safety certificate, if they then start a wildfire, uh, buy their equipment by imprudent management of their systems, they then, uh, would be able to avail themselves of this funding and it would be up to the public to try to stop it. That completely turns on its head, longstanding case law and the right of due process before those charges aren't posted on repairs.
Speaker 1: 03:03 And so we know that this fund will be paid for in part by utility companies and also in part by rate payers. Can you clarify how much would customers be paying on their bill to support this fund?
Speaker 2: 03:15 Sure. It'd be up to 10 point $5 billion.
Speaker 1: 03:18 And so how, how does that break down on each person's bill?
Speaker 2: 03:21 Well, they estimate it as an average of a, depending about $2 and 50 cents per customer, that's a monthly charge. Then it would go on through 2035 with this bill, but in the aggregate in California it's 10.5 billion and that's one of the ways that utility companies and lawmakers get away with imposing these charges on the rate payers. Right now there is a charge that we're all paying and it was imposed back during the energy crisis 2000 2001 and it was imposed and and set to a sunset or or stop in 2020 what this bill does is it passes it on for another 15 years without the public's right to stop it. That's what our lawsuit is seeking to do and that is to stop the imposition of this 10 point $5 billion public bailout of the investor on utilities when their equipment causes wildfires.
Speaker 1: 04:22 Okay. Also, if utility companies are on the hook for wildfire liability, could that also lead them to reduce the funds that they spend to upgrade equipment?
Speaker 2: 04:29 A good example is SDG and e had sought to collect 279 million from Israeli payers. That was the amount that was over and above their insurance that covered claims. When the from the 2007 wildfires that cal fire found it's equipment caused. Since that time since the Public Utility Commission has voted initiative decision saying the utility cannot recover that extra money because it did not prudently manage the system. Guess what SDG needs equipment has not caused a fire since then. By taking away those types of safeguards a where there's the utilities have to understand if they don't prudently manage their systems they will not get paid. That is the type of policies that we need so that there are no more fires. But this legislation did was figuring out how to fund wildfires caused by the utilities instead of figuring out how to stop them.
Speaker 1: 05:27 What kind of changes in this legislation could be made that you think would be fair?
Speaker 2: 05:33 It would have to keep the burden onto the utilities to show that their rates are just in reasonable. It is exactly that type of process that leads to more prudent management and safety equipment so that fires are not caused. There would need to be a public process where when fires are caused by utilities and the utilities seek to find so that the public can participate and that there's evidence that is submitted and that can be vetted by the public utility commission and the public before a blank check or a check for 10 point $5 billion is given to the utilities. There also has to be changes with the, um, public disclosure of their records. What this bill did also in part was limit what the public could see by giving an broad exemption over communications when deciding whether or not to fund these wildfire costs. So those are the types of changes that are needed so that sunlight is shown on to the process before the utilities get a blank check.
Speaker 1: 06:43 And you filed the lawsuit on Friday. What are you asking the court to do now?
Speaker 2: 06:47 We're asking the lawsuit to issue an injunction to stop this bill from being, um, uh, an I said to stop any funding to stop any bond issues to prevent this law from coming into effect and a declaration that this law is unlawful because of violates not only the United States constitution, but also the California state constitution.
Speaker 1: 07:10 I've been speaking to San Diego Attorney Maria Seaverson. Maria, thank you so much. Uh, we reached out to assemblyman Chad Mayes, who was a coauthor on the bill. He did not respond by air time. Governor Gavin Newsome said the legislation would move our state toward a safer, affordable, and reliable energy future provides certainty for wildfire victims when he signed the bill. Maria, again, thank you so much for joining us.
Speaker 2: 07:35 Thank you for having me. Jay.
Speaker 1: 00:00 San Diego researchers are literally making waves as they work to understand the ocean's role in the planet's climate as part of the KPBS climate change desk environment. Reporter Eric Anderson says the ocean modulates climate, but pollution and microbes affect how the system works.
Speaker 2: 00:18 Scripps Institution of oceanography researchers are looking at climate change and they're doing it inside this lab.
Speaker 3: 00:23 Let me show you
Speaker 2: 00:26 this. Long glass shoot, uh, allows researchers to bring the ocean into the lab by replicating waves, which out in the environment influenced the atmosphere and the planet's climate.
Speaker 3: 00:37 Yeah, so this is a paddle that we have been using to generate the wave.
Speaker 2: 00:43 Christopher Lee is the managing director of the scripts based Center for Aerosol impacts on chemistry of the environment. Machine he's standing beside is pushing ocean water down a long, narrow channel. That action creates a steady flow of waves, which roll toward a manufactured incline. The incline and artificial beach forces the waves to break and crash pushing particles and gases into the air.
Speaker 3: 01:09 That instrument, just the cross on the other side of the channel. That's your instrument from Colorado State University. They're investigating the ice nucleating property of ceasefire cells basically meaning how sees Ursel being emitted and their sampling from right here are forming ice nucleus which have a kind of property impact as well.
Speaker 2: 01:30 Lisa says ice nucleuses are rare, but when they do get created they tend to encourage rainfall. Understanding them could help researchers better understand whether all kinds of scientific instruments are clustered near the way break the research teams are working to understand as much as possible about what's happening in that Waterfield shoot.
Speaker 3: 01:52 We have continuous measurements of the temperature, dissolved oxygen, carbon dioxide, and of course chlorophyll was kind of monitors the bio mass of these phytoplankton blooms that we are inducing here in this channel.
Speaker 2: 02:06 Adding microbes to the mix is a major change from the first run of experiments which wrapped up last summer. That project aimed to isolate and measure just sea spray and particles. This run will allow atmospheric chemistry can pray there to account for many more influences including how'd you Bloom's pollution and weather.
Speaker 3: 02:27 We're building another channel which will be here in about a year. That will have wins
Speaker 2: 02:32 great there. Who's guiding the research at the facility is explaining to a group of high school students why this project has such far reaching implications. She says the ocean has some of the most significant impacts on the global climate and researchers just don't understand exactly what's going on.
Speaker 1: 02:48 The largest uncertainty in all climate change is the interaction between that spray and the particles and how they form clouds. That's the thing. We understand the least in the climate.
Speaker 2: 02:59 The wave machine allows researchers to figure out processes that they would otherwise have no way to understand. Pray through says that broadens the reach and the impact of the work.
Speaker 1: 03:09 We would just understand how the ocean as a whole influences the chemistry of our atmosphere. It's controlling that chemistry. It's interacting through reactions that some people have never even studied. We're looking at sort of how humans and Mother Nature, just the chemical reactions are completely changing. It's over the oceans over three quarters of the surface of the earth.
Speaker 2: 03:28 The knowledge gained over the next five years could help improve computer models that predict the planet's climate. Most climate models currently don't account for the ocean's influence and sharing that scientific pursuit with high school students, plants the seeds for the future.
Speaker 1: 03:46 It's, this is not research that's in any textbook that they read, right? And so they can come see what scientists get to do. They can come see the passion of the people that are working in that room trying to solve these problems.
Speaker 2: 03:56 Ella Niamh was part of the science camp, touring the lab. She says, the science being worked on here is an important baseline to document a changing climate.
Speaker 4: 04:05 It's not something that people are making up. And with science, it's helpful to try to find solutions for this problem that's continuously causing this planet, obviously to warm. And it's going to be affecting my generation as well as the rest of us for the rest of our lives.
Speaker 2: 04:23 Niamh says the push for understanding is encouraging. Eric Anderson KPBS news.
Speaker 5: 04:32 Uh.
Speaker 1: 00:00 It's called colony collapse disorder. Millions of bees are dying all across the world, but an invention by an Australian father and son is helping small colonies of bees survive. Even thrive. KPBS reporter John Carroll shows us how the invention is creating backyard beekeepers. The world over
Speaker 2: 00:19 Stuart Anderson and his son Cedar had been your garden variety beekeepers for years harvesting honey. The traditional way, the sound you're about to hear is them showing that traditional way.
Speaker 3: 00:31 You had to protect yourself from stings fire per smoker to sedate the bees, crack the hive open lift heavy boxes, pull out the frames, try not to squash bays, brushed them off for combs or use a leaf blower, transport the frames to a processing shed, cut the wax capping off, filter the honey and clean up all the mess. Then the fames have to go back to the hives again.
Speaker 2: 00:49 That changed back in the mid two thousands when the pair decided there had to be a better and easier way. Cedar Anderson talked to me via Skype from his home in Australia.
Speaker 3: 00:59 It was just so much work to get your honey in such a disturbance. For the bees and spend all weekend just to get a few buckets of honey to sell to the shop and make a big mess in the process and my bees were who quite cranky about it and I thought there had to be a better way. That led us on what turned out to be a decade long invention journey of tinkering away, trying prototypes and putting them in the homes and I was waiting three months to see whether the bees liked it or not. Eventually they settled on a design that would become the flow hive and in there is partially drawn honeycomb cells, which the bees waxer complete themselves and then start filling them with nectar and do that process of Manny.
Speaker 2: 01:41 When the bees are finished and the combs are full of honey, you put a lever into the top of the flow hive, give it a turn, which opens up the honeycomb cells and outcomes the honey. When they were ready to go in early 2015 the Andersons turned to a crowd funding website with the goal of raising $70,000 instead, they raised more than 12 million. Now a little more than four years later. The Anderson's say there are more than 65,000 flow hives in more than 130 countries. Two of those hives are perched above a canyon in mission hills. They belonged to Erik carpet ski
Speaker 1: 02:16 flow. I was great because it's made it accessible to so many more hobbyists, which then allows that genetic diversity.
Speaker 2: 02:22 Genetic diversity is critical to strong B colonies. It makes them much more able to fight off viruses and to withstand the destruction brought by the use of insecticides. Plus Cedar Anderson says the process of beekeeping is good for humans too.
Speaker 3: 02:37 People just that vaping to open their eyes to what's going on with the flowers, what's going on with the sprays, what's going on with habitat and the very matrix of life that we all depend on.
Speaker 2: 02:49 Bees are responsible for 30% of pollination across the globe if they go so to fruits and vegetables. Aside from the delicious honey he a couple of times a year, Eric Karpin ski says it feels great to be doing his part to combat colony collapse.
Speaker 4: 03:06 I love that. We just have all these little pockets of reserves all across the u s all across the world because we can't, we don't know exactly what causes Connie claps. If all of a sudden there's a huge colony collapsed set in a bunch of commercial beekeepers, they can, we could put out the word, hey, we need queens, we need, we need some hives.
Speaker 2: 03:23 Even with a flow hive, you still have to tend to your B's, which means you need a bee suit and a smoker. It may not be traditional beekeeping, but it is an effort. However you could call it a labor of love. KPBS reporter John Carol joins me now and John, welcome to the program. Thank you. Maureen. Was it difficult finding beekeepers in San Diego whore who are using this new method? It wasn't difficult because the company flow hive, that's their corporate name. Uh, they keep in pretty close touch with their customers. Uh, once you buy a flow hive, there's all sorts of interactive things that they encourage you to do with the company. Uh, and so they stay in, you know, fairly close touch with their customers. So they suggested a few people to me when I made the inquiry and we ended up talking to a fellow in mission hills by the name of Eric Carr Pinsky who was very interesting and uh, yeah, so it was not hard at all to find those folks.
Speaker 2: 04:20 Have any idea how popular beekeeping is here in San Diego? So we know that the San Diego Beekeeping Association has about 1200 members. Um, obviously there are people who have hives, whether they're a flow high for traditional that are not members of the association. So there's quite a few in this county. And of course we have commercial operations in the county too in the agricultural section. Like, um, I'm thinking of Staley farms and Valley Center, uh, that, you know, have the traditional big white boxes. And yeah, I help us visualize the difference between this new flow hive system and the old system of collecting honey. It sounds like in the new system, the bees actually do more of the work. Well, I, they do more work. Um, the way it's set up is there's a traditional hive on the bottom and that's where the queen has to be in lay her eggs and everything and then they have just this great in between those slats in that hive and the flow hive above.
Speaker 2: 05:20 And that's so the queen can't get up into the flow hive because you don't want her laying eggs up in the flow hive. You want just the workers up there making the honey. So the flow hive sits on top of a regular traditional hive, which you do still have to tend, you have to take care of the bees down there. Now has this new method a allowed more people to get into beekeeping and how do you produce it? It has because you can do it. It's, it's easier and it's smaller and the amount of steps that you have to go through. I really was kind of not aware of this until I got into doing this story. The traditional way of harvesting honey is a tremendous amount of work. You have to go to the hive. First of all, you have to have on your bee suit and you have to have your smoker that sort of calms the bees down and then you go into these big boxes, you have to crack them open, you have to pull each slat out one at a time, and then you have to constantly smoke because the bees will defend their hives.
Speaker 2: 06:22 So they're very upset that this is happening and you have to get them off either through the smoker or a leaf blower. Then you scrape off the cap of the wax and then you take it all into another room somewhere where you have an expeller and it's very messy. And then you have to clean them all off and go back out to where the boxes are and put them all back in again. It's, it's a very difficult situation with the flow hive. You have to do a little of that with the bottom hive. But then the top one, this is sort of the genius of this, uh, invention. It what it is, it's it's little premanufactured honeycombs that are sort of made out of a plastic and the workers come up into their and they coat them with wax and make the honey and then they've sort of the crux of the whole thing is you put this lever in the top and it opens up the honeycombs, so all the honey that's in there just flows down and into a nice big jar.
Speaker 2: 07:20 Now, one of the most interesting things about all this I think is the idea that the presence of more backyard beekeepers actually works against the problem of bee colony collapse disorder. How does that work in a couple of ways. First of all, um, something that Cedar Anderson, who is the son part of the father and son team of Australia, they're the inventors. Cedar told me this and so did Eric here in San Diego that first of all, people get much more interested in the environment around them. They're careful that there are no insecticides around the areas where they can control. So that's one thing. Then the other thing is that people have these little colonies everywhere where the flow hives are. And so it increases genetic diversity so the bees are able better able to fight off, um, all the things that are against them in society these days.
Speaker 2: 08:16 Cause the being hives to collapse and cause them to collapse. Right. What got you interested in this story? I was just poking around the Internet one day and uh, you know how you'll get little pop up ads for things and one came up for this and I thought, oh, that looks interesting. And I've always been kind of fascinated with bees and they're remarkable insects. They have gps. I mean they, they tell each other, okay, go out there, turn left and then turn right. And I mean it's just, it's astonishing how smart they are. So I was already primed for something like this. And then when I saw that I thought, oh my gosh. So I looked more into it and I thought if I don't know about it and I'm always keeping my eyes and ears open for stories, most people probably don't know about it.
Speaker 2: 08:58 And it's worth getting out there if for no other reason than to help in small ways to combat colony collapse disorder. Because as you know, Maureen, if the bees go, so do most of our fruits and vegetables, so you have to wear a bee suit while you were reporting. Uh, half of it, uh, I was in, you know, dress reporter clothes. So really only my hands were exposed, but then of course, my head. And so I put on one of those, um, you know, those hats with the netting in front. And it was a good thing I did. I had a couple of bs that seem to be fascinated with me, kept flying around. I've been speaking with KPBS reporter John Carroll. John, thank you very much. Thank you, Maureen.
Speaker 5: 09:46 [inaudible].