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Senate panel to vote on stalled EPA nomination Thursday

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The head of the Senate Environment Committee on Friday rescheduled a vote on President Barack's Obama's nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy, and urged Republicans to stop stalling the nomination.

Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, who heads the committee, rescheduled for next Thursday what may be a party-line vote after Republicans boycotted a meeting scheduled this week.

Boxer said McCarthy was highly qualified for the job, and told the top Republican on the committee that it was time to move forward on her nomination after four weeks of delays.

McCarthy "has a demonstrated record of working with Republicans and Democrats, including four Republican governors and a Democratic president," Boxer said in a letter to Senator David Vitter.

"It is time to move forward with her nomination. I hope you will attend," she said.

Republicans have used a series of procedural moves to stall nominations, making it difficult for Obama to get his second-term Cabinet in place. The Democratic president has complained that Republicans have stymied his agenda at every turn.

The dispute over McCarthy stems from more than 1,000 written questions Republican senators asked her after her confirmation hearing - what Democrats say is a new record for the number of written questions asked of a nominee.

An administration official said she answered every one.

All eight committee Republicans refused to participate in a scheduled vote on McCarthy on Thursday, leaving her nomination in limbo and unable to advance to the next stage - a full Senate vote.

A spokesman for Senator Frank Lautenberg, another Democrat on the committee, said Boxer was ready to move forward on the nomination on party-line basis if Republicans refused to drop their boycott. Democrats hold a majority on the panel.

"The Chairman said she wants Republicans to participate, but if they don't, she is prepared to move this nomination on a party-line process," Caley Gray told Reuters in an email. He said Lautenberg would be present to support the nomination next week, if a party-line vote was needed.

Even if the committee proceeds with a vote, McCarthy's nomination still faces further hurdles.

Republican Senator Roy Blunt, who is not a member of the Environment Committee, has already said he will put a hold on McCarthy in the full Senate because of delays in approvals for a floodway project in his home state of Missouri.

Although the Democratic majority controls the Senate and its committees, congressional rules give some procedural advantages to the minority Republicans, enabling them to stall or block legislation and nominees.

The boycott of McCarthy's vote came a day after Republican senators used an obscure procedural rule to delay a scheduled committee vote on Obama's nominee for labor secretary, Thomas Perez.

Other Cabinet nominations have run into partisan opposition.

McCarthy was a state environmental official in Connecticut and Massachusetts before joining the EPA in 2009 as assistant administrator of the Office of Air and Radiation. She sailed through the Senate nomination process for that role. She was the top environmental enforcer for Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, when he was governor of Massachusetts.

(Reporting By Valerie Volcovici and Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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