Hundreds of deputies to the National People's Congress (NPC) on Saturday expressed their anger over national environmental degradation by voting against nominees to the anti-pollution committee.
During the ballot for the short list of candidates to the NPC's environmental protection and resource conservation committee, 850 deputies vetoed and another 125 abstained, over a third of the 2,944 deputies who were present.
In a separate vote to anoint 25 ministers, Environment Minister Zhou Shengxian, entering a second stint in office, ranked the lowest of all with 2,734 in favor, 171 opposed and 47 abstentions.
Although the candidate list and Zhou were both still approved, the unexpected opposition came amid the smog that has been choking Beijing, and the 9,000 or more pigs found dumped into the Huangpu River, a water source for Shanghai.
"The public dissatisfaction with the government's attempts to clean up the environment has been transferred to the NPC," Dong Zhengwei, a Beijing-based lawyer whose recent request to the ministry to make public the results of a study on the nation's soil resources was rejected, told the Global Times.
Deputies at the Great Hall of the People showed surprising enthusiasm for the result, and some even clapped their hands. This level of opposition has not been seen in the NPC since 177 delegates voted no and 644 abstained over the construction of the Three Gorges Dam in 1992.
"The time span of some pledges is extended for so long that no one can see any change in the near future," said Dong.
The ministry drew up an 18-month blueprint of cleaning up the air in major cities to make it reach national standards. Lü Xinhua, spokesperson of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, called for it to be shortened.
Zhou reiterated Sunday that the ministry would prioritize controlling PM 2.5 this year, referring to the airborne particulates that measure less than 2.5 microns in diameter.
"The environment has surpassed land seizures to become the biggest cause of mass incidents in China," said Chen Jiping, deputy director of the China Law Society.
An official who declined to be identified from the ministry defended its limited and diminished role, telling the Global Times that in some cases, local officials pay little heed to the ministry's actions or words.