The burden of environmental hazards fall most heavily on the poor and on people of color. This disparate impact is found in every environmental hazard that affects humans from air pollution, pesticide poisonings, lead poisoning, water contamination, proximity to toxic waste dumps and deliberately incompatible zoning. CRPE is unique in that we work directly with impacted communities to build their capacity and power to address the environmental hazards they face. We have expanded our approach to go beyond addressing issues on a community by community basis, and seek to change the very systems that lead to inequalities by bringing together multiple communities affected by common issues to develop common solutions and a collective strategy to induce institutional change.

The People’s Senate brings together grassroots leaders from around California representing different communities impacted and most harmed by the regulatory agency responsible for managing toxic waste in the state, the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC). Building upon their personal and collective experiences with DTSC, these community representatives have identified a series of concrete reforms as well as a holistic vision for the agency that will make DTSC more accountable to those it is meant to protect—the public. In California, the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) is charged with protecting all residents from toxic exposure, yet DTSC seems more interested in protecting the economic interests of polluting industries rather than the health of California residents. DTSC fails to clean contaminated sites and permits facilities in California's most vulnerable communities, allowing companies to continually violate the State's environmental laws. Not only has DTSC failed to protect communities, they have excluded those most affected from the decision-making process. The People's Senate addresses this gap and shifts the power to communities. CRPE convenes the People’s Senate and coordinates the leadership program for its members.

In 2015 the People’s Senate’s advocacy and organizing lead to:

  • New accountability structures at DTSC with the introduction of the Independent Review Panel.
  • Influenced the new Director to direct additional resources to addressing community concerns with the hiring of the first ever Assistant Director of Environmental Justice at DTSC.
  • Improved toxic waste enforcement and permitting standards by working with legislators to identify more protective policies.  

These successes have given impacted communities across California access to DTSC and a new structure to hold the agency accountable.


Senate members represent local community groups and partner with organizations including: Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice - Concerned Neighbors of Wildomar – Committee for a Better Arvin – Committee for a Better Shafter - Communities for a Better Environment - Los Angeles Human Right to Housing Collective - Neighbors Against Phibro-Tech – Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles - Teens Against Toxins  

The Senate represents 14 communities fighting local hazards in 6 counties across the state. Learn more about some of the communities via our fact sheets:

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In August of 2014 the People's Senate released a report  chronicling their stories and outlining their vision for reform at DTSC. Parts of their vision were written into Senate Bill 812, a 2014 bill that would have helped to increase transparency and accountability at DTSC, but was vetoed by Governor Brown.