Canada government to decide fate of big pipelines

* Government removes key role from energy regulator

* It says will make decisions in national interest

OTTAWA, April 17 (Reuters) - In a major change of policy that could benefit the oil and gas industry, the Canadian government said on Tuesday that it would have the final say on approving major pipelines from now on.

The announcement means the government is stripping key veto powers from the National Energy Board, Canada’s federal energy regulator, which currently decides whether pipeline plans should go ahead.

An official document said Ottawa would “establish clearer accountability for decisions on major pipeline projects in the national interest by giving government authority to make the ‘go/no go’ decisions, based on the recommendations of the National Energy Board”.

The Conservative government is keen to expand pipeline capacity from the oil-rich tar sands of northern Alberta to the Pacific Coast. Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP and Enbridge Inc are both proposing such projects but the plans have met major resistance from environmental and aboriginal groups.

Under the current system, Ottawa can stop a pipeline that the NEB has approved but cannot overrule a decision by the NEB to veto a project.

The NEB rarely vetoes projects but sometimes attaches conditions to approvals that it grants.