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A $583 million pipeline to supply Canadian natural gas to utilities in the northeastern United States moved a step closer to construction Wednesday as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the project. The five-member panel voted unanimously in favor of the 370-mile Iroquois Gas Transmission System project, a FERC spokeswoman said.

The decision came after months of debate between utilities and environmentalists over whether or not the pipeline was needed.

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The pipeline, carrying natural gas from Alberta, will run from Iroquois, Ontario, to Long Island, N.Y. It will carry 575 million cubic feet a day of natural gas for distribution to companies in New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and New Jersey.

The New England Governors' Conference hailed the FERC's decision as ``especially welcome given the serious concern about New England's overdependence on imported oil.''

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