Hoyer: Keystone XL cannot be rushed

The Keystone XL oil pipeline "has merit" but shouldn't be approved without thorough study, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) argued Tuesday.

The Democratic whip warned that if Republicans force expedited approval of the controversial pipeline in either the payroll tax package or a looming infrastructure bill — as they're threatening to do — most Democrats will oppose it.

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"I personally believe it has merit, but I don't believe that we ought to put the administration in a position where they can't consider it in a fashion that is provided for under the law," Hoyer told reporters in the Capitol.

"If you are trying to jam the president on this consideration … then I think Democrats would generally oppose it," he added. "This is an issue — not just this pipeline, any pipeline — that is subject to certain procedures to consider whether or not it is appropriate."

The battle over Keystone XL escalated recently when Republicans, as part of December's short-term payroll tax package, inserted language forcing the administration to make a quick decision on TransCanada Corp's application to expand the pipeline from the oil sands of Alberta, Canada, to Gulf Coast refineries.

Just weeks later, President Obama rejected the application, arguing that the Republicans simply didn't leave enough time for his administration to gauge the environmental impact study of the project, as required by law.

The issue has become election-year fodder, with Republicans hammering the White House for killing a project the industry says could create thousands of jobs. GOP leaders have threatened to reverse the Keystone decision as part of the payroll tax bill, though more recently they've leaned toward attaching it instead to a transportation and infrastructure bill.

Hoyer said it would be "more appropriate" as part of the infrastructure bill, adding that "if it can be considered on substance," then "it ought to get consideration."

Still, the Maryland Democrat warned that any Keystone amendment that forces the administration's hand too quickly could sink the underlying bill.

"The issue is how do you include it," Hoyer said. "A poison pill is trying to put the president in a corner on this issue for political purposes, as opposed to substantively getting this considered on its merits."

Hoyer joins a host of other Democratic leaders critical of the Republicans' push to expedite the Keystone decision. Last week, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), a member of the payroll tax conference committee, said it's "so stupid" of GOP leaders to want a Keystone amendment as part of that package. Previously, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) argued that Republicans sank the project when they forced Obama to make his decision before an impact study could be completed.

"They left him very little choice," Pelosi said.

Hoyer on Tuesday emphasized that the project is far from dead, noting that TransCanada Corp. plans to reapply for a federal permit.

"My understanding is TransCanada is going to make another application … [that] they were going to continue to move forward and continue to try to get approval," he said, "which I think is appropriate."