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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - State utility regulators have approved a deal combining Missouri's two largest natural gas companies.

The Missouri Public Service Commission on Wednesday approved an agreement that allows Laclede Gas Co. to purchase Missouri Gas Energy.

Laclede Gas serves about 630,000 customers in the St. Louis area and parts of eastern Missouri. Missouri Gas Energy serves more than 500,000 customers in the Kansas City area and parts of western Missouri.

St. Louis-based Laclede Gas announced last December that it would pay about $1 billion to buy Missouri Gas Energy and New England Gas Co.

The deal approved by Missouri regulators bars Laclede Gas from seeking a general rate increase in its current service area until October 2015. But it could seek an immediate rate increase for the Missouri Gas Energy territory.

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