US President Barack Obama would block any legislation approving construction of the long-stalled Keystone XL oil pipeline which is to bring crude oil to Gulf coast refineries from Canada's controversial tar sands, the White House has said.

A bill that would have forced Obama's hand on the issue failed to clear Congress in its final days last year.

However, the Congress that convened on Tuesday is Republican-controlled and new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the pipeline bill will be among the first issues voted on.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said he did not expect Obama would sign any Keystone legislation that reaches his desk.

The spokesman said there was a "well-established" review process that is being run by the State Department that should not be undermined by legislation.

The legislation is sponsored by 54 Republicans and six Democrats. Supporters said they had 63 votes in favour of the bill, enough to overcome a filibuster but not a presidential veto.

Source: Agencies