“It’s toenails in comparison this year. Last year we had a decorations war with Senator [Jeff] Sessions’ office across the hall, complete with model trains and people dressed as elves and Santa.”

A spokesman for Sen. Jim DeMint on the scaled back holiday trimmings in the Republican’s office. That said, DeMint was cited as one of the few Congressmen bragging on his decorations in these lean times, including a 15-foot tree. Source: The D.C. Examiner

High Schoolers Trash 526 Extension; Install Butt Cannons

Forty James Island Charter High School students spent a recent Sunday afternoon collecting garbage underneath the James Island Connector in order to demonstrate the existing road’s environmental effect. Over 300 pounds of trash and 200 pounds of recyclable materials were collected, reports Lowcountry Earth Force. Several of the students also wrote letters to The Post and Courier and their Congressmen expressing their disapproval of the interstate extension. The same students traveled to Folly Beach last Saturday to install “butt cannons” at each beach access point, in hopes of encouraging smokers not to litter cigarette butts on the beach. You know you have a problem when your kids have to clean up your crap. —Stratton Lawrence

Charleston Loses Stellar Fire Rating

The City of Charleston’s highly-touted Class 1 fire rating was cut to a Class 3 last week. In the aftermath of the 2007 Sofa Super Store blaze that killed nine Charleston firefighters, city officials touted their strong rating with insurance risk analysts ISO — suggesting it was proof of the department’s success, outweighing its isolated, tragic failings.

Newly hired Fire Chief Thomas Carr set a new tone in announcing the downgrade on Friday, reducing the relevancy of the ISO rating to an insurance formality, and pointing instead to the broader national accreditation the department is now seeking.

“We may not be Class 1, but we’re a first class department,” he says. “Every department should aspire to recognize concerns and improve on them.”

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley says the Class 3 status shouldn’t impact home insurance costs much, if at all. The department plans to address ISO concerns regarding staffing levels and training records and request another evaluation, says Chief Carr. —Greg Hambrick

School Closing Hearings Draw Crowds, Anxiety

Hundreds of peninsula parents railed against district plans to close and relocate schools as part of a countywide cost-cutting measure. One man was escorted out of the auditorium for a brief time by city police and Superintendent Nancy McGinley threatened to cancel the meeting if the crowd didn’t calm down.

“These are our children and we have a right to be concerned about our children,” one mother yelled out.

The district plans to shutter Fraser Elementary and Charleston Progressive Academy, angering local parents. Plans to move the Charleston Charter School for Math and Science and potentially divide Buist Academy has angered other parents as well.

District officials tried to make it clear that they didn’t want to do any of this, but pointed to an up to $20 million deficit next year.

“We’ve cut everything we can,” said school board Chairwoman Toya Green. “We’ve cut the fat. We’re down to muscle.”

Cutting costs means moving students from half-full or failing schools to other campuses. McGinley pointed to declining enrollment on the peninsula, down more than a third in the past 10 years, while noting that we have the same number of school buildings.

The district’s plans also include opening a career and technology center, either at Burke High School or a stand-alone campus at Fraser Elementary, answering calls from parents for more career training. —Greg Hambrick

“I think the government has no business telling parents how their children should dress.”

Jasper County Councilwoman Gladys Jones, who voted against a saggy pants ban that was approved by the rest of the council on Dec. 15. Source: The Beaufort Gazette

Coal Plant Gets Warmer

DHEC issued an air quality permit to Santee Cooper last week to build a $1 billion coal plant on the Pee Dee River. Although the state-owned utility must still acquire a water quality permit and environmental impact statement, the permit is a victory over public opposition to the 93 pounds of mercury they’re now permitted to release in a region already rife with mercury contamination. DHEC says the utility demonstrated compliance with all government regulations, but opposition groups like the Southern Environmental Law Center say they plan to appeal the ruling. The permit comes during a week when new NASA and Stanford University climate change scenarios were released, showing that oil’s contribution to global warming pales in comparison to coal. —Stratton Lawrence

Daily updates at ccpblogs.com on everything but the rise of Mercury Poisoning as the new anthrax