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.

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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