back to corporations | rat haus | Index | Search

================== Electronic Edition ==================

---August 17, 1995---
The Big Problems, Part 4:
Environmental Research Foundation
P.O. Box 5036, Annapolis, MD 21403
Fax (410) 263-8944; Internet:
Subscribe: send E-mail to
with the single word SUBSCRIBE in the message. It's free.
Back issues available via anonymous ftp from and from


A Pennsylvania environmental group has taken action to revoke the corporate charters of two major American corporations -- WMX Technologies (formerly Waste Management, Inc.), the giant waste hauler, and CSX, a large railroad and ocean shipping company.[1]

The Community Environmental Defense League (CELDF) of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania [Thomas Linzey, president; phone: 717-545-0124], in June petitioned the attorneys general of Delaware and West Virginia, asking them to revoke the corporate charters of WMX and CSX.

A corporate charter is a piece of paper issued by the authority of state legislatures to groups of people, giving them the privilege of doing business as a "corporation." The benefits of the corporate form are many:

Despite these and other advantages of incorporation, the power to give, or revoke, corporate charters still resides with state legislatures, so ultimately the American people hold power over American corporations -- though during this century the people have made remarkably little use of such power. Now CELDF has taken a first step to change this picture. Here are a few details about the two cases:

WMX Technologies

WMX Technologies (still better known by its former name, Waste Management, Inc.) is the nation's largest waste hauling firm, headquartered in Oak Brook, Illinois, but chartered in Delaware. In recent years, WMX has been charged with numerous violations of law and regulations and has paid tens of millions of dollars in fines. (See REHW #299, #288, #282, and #281.) Based on this record, CELDF on June 14, 1995, petitioned the Attorney General of Delaware to revoke WMX's charter of incorporation. Delaware law gives the Attorney General QUO WARRANTO power to revoke the charter of any corporation for "abuse, misuse or nonuse of its corporate powers, privileges or franchises." QUO WARRANTO (a Latin phrase meaning "by what authority?") describes a proceeding in which the state demands to know by what authority an individual or corporation is exercising a franchise or liberty. Such a proceeding can end in revocation of a corporate charter. Thomas Linzey, the president of CELDF, says Delaware courts have defined "abuse" of corporate privilege as "continued criminal violations." Linzey says he does not expect the Delaware Attorney General to take action against WMX, but eventually he may sue the Attorney General. Delaware law says the attorney general "shall" take action, Linzey says; it is not discretionary.


In recent years, CSX spills and leaks have caused pollution in several U.S. locations (for example, see REHW #230 and New York Times 11/21/91, pg. A20), including eest Virginia. Based on this record, CELDF on June 9, 1995, wrote West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw, Jr., seeking the revocation of CSX's corporate charter.


It is clear that there is a new movement afoot in this country to reassert control over corporations. The action in June by CELDF against WMX and CSX could be viewed as the opening gambit in a high-stakes chess game between corporations and the American people. It is a particularly dangerous game for corporations because, if they use their raw power to secure their present privileges against democratic control, they may light the fire under a major public debate, which would alert the public to the extraordinary nature and extent of corporate power. In the ensuing conflagration, corporate privileges could go up in smoke. At present, public attention in the U.S. is focused almost exclusively on "government" as the source of the nation's problems; corporations are nearly invisible, and certainly are nowhere near the center of public debate. Even the mainstream environmental movement for the past 25 years has sought to influence corporate behavior only indirectly, by establishing government regulations -- a strategy the mainstream groups continue to pursue even though it has proven to be enormously costly and largely ineffective.

For the past 4 years, the leading proponent of democratic control of corporations has been Richard Grossman. Now, with Ward Morehouse, Grossman has started a new project called the Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy (P.O. Box 246, S. Yarmouth, Mass., 02664-0246; phone: (508) 398-1145; E-mail:; Web: The new project goes beyond mere charter revocation as a strategy for making corporations more accountable. Recently Grossman and Morehouse issued a list of "Suggestions for an Agenda for Action in Arenas WE Define" -- tactics for changing the behavior of corporations, going beyond corporate charter revocation. Here they are:

Richard Grossman said recently, "In about 10 states, people are looking into corporate law and histories -- including how their state constitutions and state corporation codes once defined corporate rights and activity with great precision. People are learning to demystify the law, looking for organizing handles they can use to take rights and powers away from corporations.

"The large corporation is truly the dominant institution of our era. It creates dependence and feelings of helplessness, while provoking great anger. Where people have been resisting corporate harms, where corporations are overtly tyrannical, people are reflecting on the nature of corporations. They are discussing citizen sovereignty and corporate abolition. Surely we can turn people's anger away from the symbols of government and towards our real governing bodies -- giant corporations. Surely we can build a powerful political movement to disempower corporations and to govern ourselves," Grossman said.

--Peter Montague


  1. "New Pennsylvania Environmental Group Seeks to Revoke Charters of CSX Corporation and WMX Technologies for Environmental Transgressions," Corporate Crime Reporter June 26, 1995, pgs. 1-5.

Descriptor terms: corporations; democracy; accountability; wmi; wmx; csx; community environmental defense fund; celdf; thomas linzey; delaware; west virginia; de; wv; charter revocation; corporate charters; richard grossman; ward morehouse; program on corporations, law and democracy; strategy; tactics; cooperatives;

back to corporations | rat haus | Index | Search