The Yesah Tribunal: Mountain Valley Pipeline and the Rights of Rivers

On Saturday June 1st, 7 Directions of Service, co-sponsored by Movement Rights, the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature, and the International Rights of Nature Tribunal hosted “The Yesah Tribunal: Mountain Valley Pipeline and the Rights of Rivers”.

The Yesah Tribunal was the 12th local tribunal recognized by the International Rights of Nature Tribunal Assembly, and the first Indigenous-led tribunal of its kind in global history. 

Livestream recording:



Rights of Nature Background

The Rights of Nature—including the Rights of Rivers—is the fastest growing environmental justice movement in the world with laws in over 30 countries. Recognizing that Nature has the right to exist, evolve and carry on its vital cycles free from destructive projects like pipelines places legal and enforceable obligations on humans to live within the boundaries of the natural world.

More than just a legal construct, this Indigenous-led movement is working to bring ancestral wisdom, traditional ecological knowledge, modern science and law together to shift how we as humans live. Tribunals like the Yesah Tribunal are opportunities to practice and embody this critical paradigm shift.

Over the past few years, 7 Directions of Service and their partners have been working to draft and pass state laws that would recognize Rights of the Haw and Dan Rivers, to stop destructive projects like the MVP from moving forward. HB923, the Rights for the Dan River Ecosystem Act, was recently introduced in the NC General Assembly.

MVP Background

The Mountain Valley Pipeline is an incomplete, underground 42-inch fracked gas transmission pipeline project that is steamrolling its way over life-giving water and land across 303 miles, from northern West Virginia to southern Virginia.

Construction has involved over 500 violations of permit conditions, laws, and regulations, and 75% of the route slices through landslide and earthquake-prone terrain, including sacred Indigenous burial sites, waterways, and the Jefferson National Forest. Frontline communities and Water Protectors have been fighting the harmful, unnecessary pipeline for nearly 10 years, and came extremely close to canceling it.

In June 2023, the MVP mainline was fast-tracked by Congress and the White House, a result of being folded into the nation’s must-pass debt ceiling legislation. The MVP provisions forced the approval of all remaining federal permits, and forbids judicial review of any permits. The provisions did not include fast-tracking the MVP Southgate Extension, which is missing all necessary permits to begin construction of the proposed 31 mile extension of the mainline into North Carolina.

The Yesah Tribunal took place shortly after MVP experienced serious pipe failures during hydrostatic testing in May 2024, and developers have yet to fulfill the safety order they agreed to. All while MVP demands FERC grant the project an in-service request.

Yesah Tribunal Proceedings

President of the Yesah Tribunal Casey Camp Horinek opened the morning session, where a panel of 5 Indigenous judges  heard testimony on Mountain Valley Pipeline’s countless violations against waterways, ecologies and endemic, keystone species, as well as violations of Indigenous sovereignty. The panel of judges included Heather Milton Lightening, Anishinaabe, nêhiyaw, Blackfoot, Dakota; Hartman Deetz, Mashpee Wampanoag; La’Meshia Whittington, Apalwaci Mvkoke, Afro-Indigenous; and Patrick Suarez, Meherrin Nation. Case presenter Dr. Crystal Cavalier-Keck delivered an overview of MVP’s interlocking damages and destruction, as well as failures of regulating agencies to hold the pipeline accountable, which was fast-tracked in June 2023 as a result of being folded into the nation’s must-pass debt ceiling legislation.

A total of 13 witnesses and experts, cross-examined by Earth Prosecutor Pamela Martin, presented scientific evidence and personal stories of living along the route of MVP:

    • “The river is our passageway to the spirit world. We would take our people there when they pass on. We depended on the water being pure and clean, and if it is not, the spirit gets trapped and cannot rest the way it should. We, the Catawba, are the people of the river,” said Monty Branham, Catawba Elder.
    • “Over and over and over again, MVP has dumped mud and sediment in clean water. Some of the permanent damage is the damage to the destruction of the physical structure of waterways. Along with incredible biodiversity, we have what we call keystone species, species so important that their extinction changes whole ecosystems. Through their continual, documented violations, MVP has fundamentally changed a system that has worked,” said David Sligh, Conservation Director at Wild Virginia.  
    • “Mussels are keystone species, they are a key natural filtration system in our rivers. One mussel can filter up to eight gallons of water per day, the presence of mussels can provide cleaner water for all species, including humans. MVP has been documented to spill fertilizer and not clean it up. When fertilizer enters a water body, there is an increase in ammonia, which harms mussels, especially younger mussels,” said Alissa Ganser, PhD candidate, mussel expert.
    • “My work focuses on how other animals organize and structure their lives. We need to think about non-human beings as having social lives as well. For example, colorful fish use their colors to communicate with each other, with so much sediment caused by MVP violations, they’re unable to communicate,” Dr. Madhusudan Katti.
    • “Our legacy farm has been in the family for over 100 years. MVP put a pipe across it, 600 feet. We could not use the farm road anymore. They did nothing to correct it. We had a gravesite with the ancestors buried there, and they blocked it off from us. We have 7 and 9 year old grandchildren. We want them to see the farm and love it as we do. MVP must be stopped,” said Elizabeth Jones, MVP Southgate impacted community member, and President of the Pittsylvania County Virginia NAACP.
    • “Why does a corporation like MVP have the right to come take your land and put pipes in it, and we still have to pay property taxes? It pains me to see the harms presented today during this tribunal. We must shift to other sources of energy that are more safe,” said Beverly Payne, elder of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation.
    • “Aquifers purify water using the soil and rock layers, they are natural filters. So many of our communities in West Virginia rely on water from aquifers for safe and clean groundwater. MVP has been cited by regulatory agencies for failing to meet standards in West Virginia and they have dozens of cited violations. Many families are no longer able to drink from their wells due to MVP,” said Mariah Clay, MVP Organizer at West Virginia Rivers.

Each presenter also delivered clear requests for the judges to consider in their deliberation:

  • “I would like to ask that you raise this case to the international level, and issue a moratorium on all fracked gas pipelines being built in the Southeast United States,” said Dr. Crystal Cavalier-Keck, Case Presenter of the Yesah Tribunal, Co-Founder of 7 Directions of Service and MVP Southgate impacted community member.
  • “We respectfully request that the Yesah Tribunal, based on evidence of Mountain Valley Pipeline’s violations of the inherent Rights of Nature, make a formal request to members of the United States Congress to draft legislation to repeal Section 324 of the 2023 Fiscal Responsibility Act which mandated completion of the MVP and stripped jurisdiction from the courts where such Rights were being upheld. Additionally, due to the risks posed to all life, upstream, midstream, and downstream from MVP, we respectfully request the Tribunal urge the US House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure to fully investigate whether MVP can ever be safely operated at full capacity considering the age and condition of the pipe as revealed by the rupture during testing in Bent Mountain, VA on May 1st, 2024,” said Russell Chisholm, Co-Director, Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights Coalition and MVP impacted community member.
  • “The Haw River needs legal standing and rights to protect it. It has the right to naturally exist, flourish, regenerate, and evolve into abundant, clean, and unpolluted water. I recommend a complete turnaround from fossil fuels,” said Ayo Wilson, Director of Clean Energy & Climate Justice, West End Revitalization Association and Board President of the Haw River Assembly. 
  • “When I hear of the destruction, even of the smallest things, from fish to other animals in the water, I know it is the fault of the U.S. government. We [indigenous people] are the original environmentalists. Nowadays you can’t go swimming anymore. You can’t eat the fish. We need to do something about that, because there is a new generation coming up, and we need them to have the same opportunities to have clean water and fish,” said Sachem Sam George.


After recess and deliberation, judges shared individual conclusions and insights, leading up to declaring the final verdict.

  • “We are bound by our systems of oppression. We are bound by our Mother Earth and we are bound by the desecration of our Mother Earth. Plantations were never gone with emancipation, plantations became corporations. This is our reclamation, this is environmental justice”, said Judge La’Meshia Whittington.
  • “MVP and government agencies have allowed the construction of a pipeline that does not meet health and safety guidelines. They would not allow the construction of a skyscraper on cement if it did not meet health and safety guidelines. MVP is clearly a violation of the absolute rights of the river,” said Judge Hartman Deetz.
  • “Rights of Nature and natural law predate anything like the U.S. empire and U.S. rule of law. If we are going to decolonize the world we have to think from the smallest bacteria and mussels to the largest life forms that exist…. They are beings and not just things,” said Judge Heather Milton-Lightening. 


President of the Tribunal Casey Camp Horinek then concluded the Yesah Tribunal by delivering the final verdict in the name of the Rights of Mother Nature, Humanity and future generations:

  1. MVP is a violation of the Rights of Nature and should be stopped.
  2. MVP Southgate should not be approved.
  3. The Yesah Tribunal demands to elevate this case as an International Rights of Nature Tribunal because it exemplifies everything that is happening to Indigenous communities.
  4. The Yesah Tribunal demands bringing this case to other international bodies, including the UN.
  5. The Yesah Tribunal recommends this case be brought before appropriate federal, state and local agencies as a violation of existing law, including Endangered Species Act, and Rights of Nature.
  6. Section 324 of the 2023 Fiscal Responsibility Act must be repealed.
  7. The Yesah Tribunal recognizes the inherent Rights of Rivers and their ecosystems, the inherent Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the inherent Rights of Nature.
  8. We recognize the impacts and desecration of keystone species and living entities are a violation of the Rights of Nature.  
  9. The Yesah Tribunal condemns existing, unjust laws that say corporations are rightsholders. The Yesah Tribuna recognizes Rights of Nature applies to all living things and the system of life only and are placed over corporate so-called “rights”. 
  10. As Indigenous People, The Yesah Tribunal recognizes that what happens to Mother Earth happens to us all, and recognizes that there is a direct correlation between pipelines and MMIP/ MMIWG2S+ (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives). 
  11. The Yesah Tribuna accepts the recommendations made to visit the sites of impacted and potentially impacted communities along the MVP route, and the need for laws and regulatory structures that protect “us”.
  12. The Yesah Tribuna recognizes there are many issues that need to be investigated, and will endeavor to research and include those as this case is elevated to higher, international tribunals.

The verdict delivered by the Judges was based on the provisions of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Nature, ILO Convention 169, the United Nations and OAS Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Convention on Biodiversity, and the jurisprudence issued by the Inter-American System and the Universal System of Human Rights, as well as the legislation of the United States of America, and the legislation and jurisprudence advancing the rights of Nature in countries such as Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Panama among others.

As the Rights of Nature movement is unheard of to so many, it’s up to us advocates to learn, spread awareness and educate our communities. Continuing self-education and information-sharing are ongoing forms of support you can offer.

Legal documents

Read on for: Calls to Action and Contact Information to the Right and Below

Ask FERC to DENY MVP’s request for ‘in-service’ permission!

MVP is asking for “in-service” permission NOW – before they’ve completed necessary requirements of their safety consent agreement with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. 

1) Submit a comment into docket CP16-10-000 via or via eComment here.

Sample WRITTEN script – modify it to make it personal!

I ask that FERC’s Director of the Office of Energy Projects, Terry Turpin, deny MVP’s request to go in service at this time. MVP acknowledges this request is being made before the requirements for Sections 16 and 19(A) of the Consent Agreement with PHMSA have been met. There is a significant percentage of required measures remaining for Spreads G & H including hydrotesting. Hydrostatic testing has resulted in a rupture and in sedimentation events in Virginia requiring the ruptured pipe to undergo a metallurgical study. Further testing failures are occurring and there is still construction ongoing. As the requirements of the consent agreement with PHMSA have not yet been met, permission to place the project in operation is premature and should not be considered until all required testing is completed and the pre-operational requirements of the consent agreement has been reached. Please deny MVP’s ‘Request to Place Project Facilities In Service.’

2) Contact the Office of Energy Projects: 202-502-8700

Ask: What is the timeline for this process and share your safety concerns!

Call your legislators’ offices

For elected officials along the MVP route – ask them to weigh in to FERC and submit a comment! Additional asks: ask them to make a public statement, file something in the docket, contact PHMSA, etc. 

Sample script: “My name is ____ and I am a constituent/concerned resident. I am concerned that MVP is asking FERC for permission to go ‘in-service’ before they have completed the safety requirements from the agreement they reached with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). Pipe ruptured during hydrostatic testing in Bent Mountain, VA, construction is still active, and only 64.2% of the route has been restored. The community is not being given any updates, timelines or answers. An in-service permission should not be granted at this time and our community’s safety is at risk.  Pease ask Terry Turpin, the FERC’s Office of Energy Projects Director, to deny MVP’s request.”



Senator Mark Warner – DC Office (202) 224-2023; Roanoke office: (540) 857-2676

^^^^ mention that Sen. Kaine has weighed in + ask him to file a letter! (additional offices)

Constituents please submit a comment here


Representative Morgan Griffith – thank him for recent comments + ask him to file a letter!

DC Office (202) 225-3861; Christiansburg office: (540) 381-5671

**Rep. Griffith recently said in a statement to E&E News: “Mountain Valley has given the impression that all is well with the project. Despite this, the sudden failure of one pipe is an alarming development. I believe the full pipeline should be tested before there is any discussion of placing it into service.” <<<< Mention this comment when calling other offices


Senator Tim Kaine – thank him for recent comments + ask him to file a letter! 

DC Office (202) 224-4024; Roanoke office: (540) 682-5693  (additional offices)

Constituents – please submit comment here

“The testing has shown all kinds of problems,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said on Capitol Hill. “There continue to be the kind of environmental violations that slowed them down before. It’s not like Congress waving a magic wand saying, ‘Do this project,’ made it a project being done well. So I’m not happy with that.”


Senator Bill Stanley (540) 821-3066 (Franklin)

Senator David Suetterlein (540) 302-8486 (Parts of Montgomery, Roanoke)

Senator Christopher Head (540) 283-2839 (Craig)

Senator Travis Hackworth (276) 345-9112 (Giles)

Senator Tammy Mulchi (434) 374-5129 (Pittsylvania)

Delegate Jason Ballard (540) 787-5011 (Giles, Montgomery)

Delegate Terry Austin (540) 254-1500 (Craig)

Delegate Joseph McNamara *confirming phone# (Roanoke County, part of Roanoke City & Salem)

Delegate Joseph Obenshain (804) 698-1041 *in session# (Part of Montgomery, Roanoke)

Delegate Will Davis (540) 963-5221 (Franklin, part of Roanoke)

Delegate Danny Marshall (434) 797-5861 (Part of Pittsylvania)

Delegate Eric Phillips (434) 326-5878 (Part of Pittsylvania)

Delegate Eric Zehr (434) 333-6333 (Part of Pittsylvania)

*Delegate Sam Rasoul (Part of City of Roanoke) has submitted this letter asking for denial signed by 22 other VA legislators

West Virginia


Senator Joe Manchin (202)-224-3954

Representative Shelley Capito (202) 224-6472

Sample script: “My name is ____ and I am a constituent. I am concerned that MVP is asking FERC for permission to go ‘in-service’ before they have completed the safety requirements from the agreement they reached with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). Pipe ruptured during hydrostatic testing in Bent Mountain, VA, construction is still active, much of the route in VA has not been restored. In-service permission should not be granted at this time and our community’s safety is at risk. You claimed that even when you backed this project, you supported the safety of communities. Please ask Terry Turpin, the FERC’s Office of Energy Projects Director, to deny MVP’s request at this time.”


Federal allies + key committee members

Sen. Bernie Sanders (202) 224-5141 *ask to submit message to FERC’s OEP

Sen. Maria Cantwell (202) 224-3441 (Senate Comm on Energy and Natural Resources)

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (202) 225-2435 *ask to submit message to FERC’s OEP

Rep. Frank Pallone (202) 225-4671 (Ranking member, House Energy and Commerce Comm)

  • Ask legislators to tell FERC – no ‘in-service’ date without completed consent agreement! 
      1. Additional Email or call script
        1. “Senator/Rep ____, please ask FERC’s Director of the Office of Energy Projects, Terry Turpin, to deny MVP’s ‘in-service’ request. MVP admits they have not completed requirements for their Consent Agreement with PHMSA. The pipe ruptured during hydrostatic testing and there is a significant percentage of required safety measures remaining for Spreads in Virginia. For the safety of those along the route, please ask FERC to deny MVP’s ‘Request to Place Project Facilities In Service.’
  • Sample tweet:
  • .[LEGISLATOR] @PHMSA_DOT Mountain Valley’s pipeline ruptured during hydrostatic testing! Pls ask FERC to deny MVP’s ‘in-service’ request bc PHMSA’s consent agreement is not complete! 


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