Dorgan wants BP legally bound to pay claims related to oil spill

The Obama administration and Congress may consider ways to legally bind BP to pay damages resulting from the oil spill, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) said Monday.

Dorgan, the second-ranking Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, worried that BP might be able to back out of its pledge to pay all "legitimate" claims from the spill without the force of law.

"We need to bind them at this point, to make sure that — six months, 16 months from now — they don't say, 'Well, you know what, we didn't mean we were going to stand behind all of it,'" Dorgan said Monday afternoon during an appearance on CNBC.

The North Dakota senator said he'd spoken to the Justice Department about finding ways to compel BP to pay claims, though the scope of those claims have been under dispute. Some liberal Democrats have said BP should be expected to compensate fishermen and other coastal professionals whose livelihoods are affected by the ongoing spill, while others like BP have been coy about the extent to which they'll pay out claims, perhaps limiting their remuneration to strict liability.

Democrats have sought to increase the liability cap for BP, though Republicans have objected to efforts raising that to $10 billion or above. That effort wouldn't necessarily define the extent to which BP will meet claims.

President Barack Obama has maintained a firmer stance against the company over the past week, though, when it comes to how they'll pay for the spill.

"I want to repeat, I do not want to see B.P. nickel-and-diming these businesses that are having a very tough time," the president said following a meeting with his Cabinet this morning. 

The company has so far spent a reported $1.25 billion in its efforts to stop, contain and clean up the oil spill.

"I hope that Justice will find some way to get a binding commitment," Dorgan said of BP's pledges, adding his voice to colleagues' suggestion that BP suspend payment of its dividends in the meanwhile.

"Let's make sure they're not paying dividends," Dorgan explained. "We need to make sure that money's available in the future for meeting the commitments they've now made."