2012 - %3, June

We Could Stop Importing Oil From the Middle East Today if We Wanted To

| Fri Jun. 29, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

Earlier this week the Wall Street Journal passed along some good news: Within a few years, America will be able to substantially reduce its dependence on Middle East oil.

The shift, a result of technological advances that are unlocking new sources of oil in shale-rock formations, oil sands and deep beneath the ocean floor, carries profound consequences for the U.S. economy and energy security. A good portion of this surprising bounty comes from the widespread use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a technique perfected during the last decade in U.S. fields previously deemed not worth tampering with.

By 2020, nearly half of the crude oil America consumes will be produced at home, while 82% will come from this side of the Atlantic, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The change achieves a long-sought goal of U.S. policy-making: to draw more oil from nearby, stable sources and less from a volatile region half a world away.

The article mainly emphasizes the benefits of new shale oil fields that have been opened up by hydraulic fracturing. But I think this is a misreading. Fracking is important, but it's not really the key to America's petroleum future. Here are three things you should know from the recent release of the EIA's Annual Energy Outlook 2012.

#1: We could stop importing oil from the Middle East today if we wanted to.

The chart on the right shows U.S oil consumption. Take a look at the past few years: oil consumption has dropped nearly 2 million barrels per day since 2007. Over the same period, U.S. imports of oil have dropped 2.1 million barrels per day.

So how much oil do we import from the Persian Gulf? Answer: in 2007 we imported 2.1 million barrels per day, about 10% of our total consumption. The fact is that we've never heavily relied on Persian Gulf oil, and if we had chosen to, we could have cut Middle East imports to zero based solely on our drop in consumption over the past few years. Far from trying to wean ourselves off Middle East oil, we've made a conscious decision to keep buying it.

#2: EIA only projects a small amount of new production from shale oil.

The Journal suggests that "tight oil" produced from shale deposits is a key reason that the US will be able to reduce oil imports in the future. But although shale oil is important, the fact is that EIA projects only a modest amount of new production from shale fields.

The chart on the right shows various projections. In the best case, shale oil could amount to nearly 3 million barrels per day, but that's unlikely. EIA's "reference case" — i.e., their best estimate — is that shale fields will peak at 1.3 million barrels per day and then start to decline. That's not nothing, but it's only about 7 percent of our total consumption.

#3: The main source of lower oil imports comes from better fuel economy and other efficiency measures, not from fracking.

There are two charts below. Take a look at the one on the left. In the 25 years between 1980 and 2005, U.S. oil consumption increased by more than 5 million barrels per day. Now take a look at the projection for the 25 years from 2010 to 2035. EIA forecasts an increase of only about 1 million barrels per day.

That's a difference of more than 4 million barrels per day — and it's by far the biggest contributor to our projected reduction in imports. The chart on the right shows the real explanation for declining imports: It's because we're using energy a lot more efficiently, and per capita energy use is therefore forecast to be on a steady downslope. Fracking may be sexy these days, but as always, it's drab old energy efficiency that has the biggest potential to lead the way toward energy independence. It may be boring, but if we paid even more attention to it, it would reduce energy imports far more than fracking ever will.

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Updated: What's Happening With the Colorado Wildfires Explained

| Fri Jun. 29, 2012 6:00 AM EDT
The National Guard drops water onto the High Park fire approximately 15 miles west of Fort Collins, June 18, 2012

This explainer is being continuously updated; click on a question below to read the answer. 


Update: Monday, July 2:  Firefighters continue to make progress on the Waldo Canyon fire, which is now 55 percent contained. The Denver Post has an interactive Google map that allows you to navigate the neighborhoods damaged by the fire. Here's a video shot by a resident returning to his scorched neighborhood:

Update: Sunday, July 1, 2:39 PM: Firefighters have contained 45 percent of the Waldo Canyon fire, and evacuations continue to be lifted. Officials slightly increased the count of houses destroyed to 350, and the death toll was raised from one to two. The Denver Post reports on residents confronting the damage here; the Boulder Daily Camera's take is here. The High Park fire is now 100 percent contained.

Here's a Colorado Springs resident describing the moment when she found out the moment her house was destroyed in the Waldo Canyon fire:

Udpate: Saturday, June 30, 10:30 AM: The High Park Fire is almost completely contained, an most evacuees are returning to their homes. Meanwhile, the Waldo Canyon fire is now 30 percent contained, but since the weather has become hotter and drier, firefighters expect a challenging weekend. The Denver Post reports that burglaries occurred at several of the homes that were evacuated.

Here's a time-lapse video of the Waldo Canyon fire, taken from June 23-June 28. (I recommend muting the terrible soundtrack.)

What are the biggest fires that are currently burning?
Friday, June 29: There are currently ten active wildfires in Colorado.

The second most destructive wildfire in Colorado history, the High Park Fire started near Ft. Collins on June 9 and has burned more than 140 square miles and destroyed 257 homes, to the tune of $36.4 million in firefighting costs. It is now about 85 percent contained, and nearly 2,000 evacuees are just returning home. It's expected to be completely contained by July 1.

The other high-profile blaze is the Waldo Canyon Fire, which started on June 23 just outside Colorado Springs, the state's second-largest city. At about 26 square miles, the Waldo Canyon Fire is smaller than the High Park Fire, but because of the population density in its path, it's already the most destructive in Colorado history. So far, it's only 15 percent contained and has killed one person and burned 346 homes on 35 streets, according to the Denver Post. Tens of thousands around Colorado Springs have been evacuated, and Army troops are working to protect the Air Force Academy there. So far, the Waldo Canyon Fire has cost $3.2 million. "Huge, ugly, black clouds of smoke," is how one evacuee described the fire to the Post. "When you step out of your front door and there's smoke, it's absolutely terrifying."

Here's a video of President Obama's visit to Colorado Springs:

 You can see before and after aerial views of the landscape around both the High Park Fire and the Waldo Canyon fires with this cool USGS tool.

This is a video taken from a home near the Waldo Canyon (Colorado Springs) fire:

 Here's one view of the High Park fire near Ft. Collins:

The National Guard/FlickrThe National Guard/Flickr

And here's smoke from the Flagstaff Fire as captured from a parking lot at the nearby University of Colorado-Boulder:*

Zach Dischner/FlickrZach Dischner/Flickr

How do these fires compare to others in history?

In late May, the Gila National Forest Fire became the biggest in New Mexico history, eating up more than 265 square miles. While neither of the big Colorado fires has yet to claim such a title for itself, the governor is already calling it the worst fire season in state history, with four dead statewide,  hundreds of structures destoyed, and nearly $40 million spent.

Are these fires caused by climate change?

In a conference call with reporters this morning, leading climate scientists Dr. Steven Running of University of Montana and Dr. Michael Oppenheimer of Princeton explained how more frequent and severe wildfires are a predictable by-product of global warming, as higher temperatures leave dried-out forests just a lightning-strike away from uncontrollable blazes.

"This is really a window into what global warming looks like," Oppenheimer said. "It looks like heat. It looks like dryness. It looks like this kind of disaster."

Scientists are reluctant to attribute these or any fires directly to man-made greenhouse gas emissions. Still, the fires fit squarely into a pattern predicted by climate models that show emissions driving warmer winters that lead to longer, drier summers.

The Waldo Canyon fire invades the Mountain Shadows neighborhood of Colorado Springs Tuesday, June 26.  Jerilee Bennett/Colorado Springs GazetteThe Waldo Canyon fire invades a Colorado Springs neighborhood on Tuesday, June 26. Jerilee Bennett/Colorado Springs Gazette

Is this the new normal?

If local temperature averages continue to rise, then yes. This March through May was the second warmest such period on record for Colorado, and as the chart below shows, it's been exceptionally dry:

Courtesy NOAACourtesy NOAAA 2009 federal study found that higher spring and summer temperatures are the principal cause of more and bigger fires in the Southwest. Movever, Running added, higher winter temperatures mean less snowpack to keep fallen wood moist; this year, Colorado's snowpack has been 80 percent below average. Warmer winters also benefit the invasive pine beetle: More beetles are surviving the winter and emerging hungry, leaving a wake of dead trees that make perfect kindling.

Smoke from the High Park fire seen from National Guard post near Ft. Collins.  The National Guard/FlickrSmoke from the High Park fire seen from National Guard post near Ft. Collins. The National Guard/Flickr

So if this is the new normal, what's the best way to fight fires?

The important thing, Running said, is to keep brush buildup low by using carefully controlled burns and collecting and reusing dead wood from the forest floor. Firefighters should also focus their efforts on areas near human development, and let fires out in the wildnerness burn more freely. This week, at least one Washington lawmaker railed on the Forest Service for not doing more to aggressively battle the flames. But Running cautioned that with high winds, the fires "are like a nuclear bomb going off," and that telling anyone to simply stop them is like telling NOAA to simply stop hurricanes before they reach land.

Both scientists agreed that if, as predicted, wildfires continue to become more frequent and severe, there will only be so much we can do to control them.

"There's always a shortfall between climate change and people's ability to engineer or adapt," Oppenheimer said. "Eventually, if we don't control emissions, we won't be able to adapt."

Two residents near the Waldo Canyon fire embrace as smoke rises over their neighborhood.  Mark Reis/Colorado Springs GazetteTwo residents near the Waldo Canyon fire embrace as smoke rises over their neighborhood. Mark Reis/Colorado Springs Gazette

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the photo taken from the UC-Boulder parking lot was of the High Park Fire. The sentence has since been fixed.

This Week in Dark Money

| Fri Jun. 29, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

A quick look at the week that was in the world of political dark money...

the money shot

 

QUOTE of the week

"I am going to bundle every penny I can bundle."
—Rodger Young, a Romney donor-turned-bundler, speaking to ABC News at Romney's Republicanpalooza retreat last weekend. Hundreds of Romney backers attended, but who they were may be hard to ascertain: Romney has only disclosed his bundlers who are registered lobbyists, as required by law. (President Obama has raised at least $106 million from bundlers; Romney's raised at least $3 million.)
 


chart of the week

This week we launched our interactive map of the dark-money universe, which charts the biggest and most notable super-PACs and dark-money groups trying to influence the 2012 election, and keeps an eye on some of their top moneymakers. Bookmark the page—we'll be adding regular updates over the next few months.


stat of the week

$9 million: The amount the conservative dark-money outfit Americans for Prosperity plans to spend on ads attacking Obamacare now that the Supreme Court has upheld the law. "The Supreme Court's ruled and President Obama's now given us one of the biggest tax increases in history," the group's president, told Politico. "We're going to remind people of the disastrous components of this legislation." Meanwhile, the Romney campaign claimed it's already raised upward of $2 million off the court's decision.


attack ad of the week

The Obama campaign and the pro-Obama super-PAC Priorities USA Action took advantage of a lengthy Washington Post report that Bain Capital "invested in a series of firms that specialized in relocating jobs done by American workers to new facilities in low-wage countries like China and India" during Mitt Romney's 15 years running the company. Romney campaign officials met with top Post editors to demand a retraction; they were denied. Priorities USA Action, which is run by former Obama press secretary Bill Burton, has released a "super memo" using the Post story to hit Romney. The president's reelection campaign (which can't legally coordinate with the super-PAC) released this ad deeming Romney "outsourcer-in-chief":


 

more mojo dark-money coverage

New York Attorney General Coming After US Chamber Affiliate: Eric Schneiderman is probing whether a foundation broke the law by sending $18 million to the US Chamber of Commerce.
IRS Takes a Closer Look at Karl Rove's Dark-Money Group: Is Crossroads GPS bending tax rules? We may not find out until after the election is long over.
Who's Paying for $6 Million of New Anti-Obamacare Ads?: A conservative women's group is spending millions on dark-money TV ads bashing health care reform—and hasn't said where it got the dough.
In New Decision, Supreme Court Still Loves Citizens United: A Montana case gave the justices a chance to reconsider their decision allowing unlimited corporate spending in elections.
Anatomy of a Non-Attack Attack Ad: An inside glimpse at the thinking—and chutzpah—behind a dark-money group's election ads.


more must-reads

• Most of 2012's independent campaign ads are from groups that don't disclose their donors. Washington Post
• Federal appeals court reinstates criminal corporate donation-funneling charge against Hillary Clinton fundraisers. Businessweek
• In Illinois, Citizens United has endangered state campaign contribution limits. iWatch News
• Super-PAC spending wasn't enough to knock out two entrenched incumbents, Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), in their primaries… Sunlight Foundation
• …But their deep-pocketed financiers stepped-up their spending in May. Huffington Post

Anthony Kennedy's Swing Vote Days Are Long Gone

| Thu Jun. 28, 2012 9:52 PM EDT

One of the supposed surprises of today's Obamacare ruling is that Anthony Kennedy, the traditional swing vote on the court, joined the fire-breathing conservatives in their bid to wipe out ACA completely. Meanwhile, reliable conservative John Roberts shied away from the precipice and wrote a modest, Kennedy-esque opinion that split the baby but ended up mostly leaving ACA intact.

I'm not sure why Roberts chose to do that, but Kennedy's vote was less of a surprise: some time ago, for reasons that remain mysterious, Kennedy seemed to finally tire of being the court's perennial squish. Who knows why? Maybe he just got tired of being called a squish. In any case, over the past five years he's steadily become a much more reliable conservative vote, something the chart below, which we ran a couple of days ago, confirms. As you can see, several of the justices have moved rightward over the past few years, but Kennedy is the only one who's moved from the center to a firmly conservative position, and he shows no signs of stopping. Whatever the reason for this, it's really not correct to think of Kennedy as a centrist anymore. He's now a pretty firm conservative vote, and Citizens United and the Obamacare decision have been his coming out party. The days of Lawrence and Kelo are long gone.

Liberals Won the Obamacare Battle, But May Have Lost the War

| Thu Jun. 28, 2012 6:45 PM EDT

Having already written half a dozen posts about the Supreme Court's decision in the Obamacare case, over lunch I decided to dive into the dissent, authored by Antonin Scalia. It's fairly remarkable.

First off, Scalia invalidates the individual mandate completely. The Commerce Clause doesn't justify it because Congress can't compel people to participate in commerce, and Congress's taxing power doesn't justify it either because it's a penalty, not a tax. This isn't unexpected, though it's a little surprising that Scalia barely even bothers to address the argument that, by its nature, everyone already participates in the healthcare market, so the individual mandate isn't truly compelling anything in the first place. Young people, Scalia says, "are quite simply not participants in that market," and can't be made so by arguing that they'll participate later in life. But that's never been the whole argument. The argument is that healthy young people already participate in the market today because taxpayers end up paying for their care if they have an unexpected illness and end up in the emergency room. You might or might not buy that argument, but Scalia just blithely ignores it.

But if striking down the mandate wasn't too unexpected, the Medicaid dissent is more surprising. In the majority opinion, seven justices agreed that Congress had overreached when it threatened states with the loss of all Medicaid funding if they didn't sign up for ACA's new Medicaid expansion. This, they said, was too coercive. It's OK to make new funding contingent on acceptance of new rules, but you can't make existing funding contingent on new rules.

Scalia agrees, but says the court can't simply strike down this penalty. Instead, it has to invalidate the entire Medicaid expansion:

The reality that States were given no real choice but to expand Medicaid was not an accident. Congress assumed States would have no choice, and the ACA depends on States’ having no choice, because its Mandate requires low-income individuals to obtain insurance many of them can afford only through the Medicaid Expansion. Furthermore, a State’s withdrawal might subject everyone in the State to much higher insurance premiums.

....Worse, the Government’s proposed remedy introduces a new dynamic: States must choose between expanding Medicaid or paying huge tax sums to the federal fisc for the sole benefit of expanding Medicaid in other States. If this divisive dynamic between and among States can be introduced at all, it should be by conscious congressional choice, not by Court-invented interpretation.

This is fairly breathtaking. Congress routinely makes federal funding of new programs dependent on acceptance of federal regulations. The majority ruled that this long-accepted practice was as far as Congress could go and therefore rolled back the more stringent penalty. But Scalia argues that the court can't do that. The court can't simply roll back Congress's overreach, it has to wipe out the program completely. Why? Because (a) a reduced incentive to accept the Medicaid expansion might have knock-on effects, and (b) states that don't accept the Medicaid expansion would be faced with the prospect of paying tax dollars for the sole benefit of other states. Scalia is unfazed by the fact that the first reason is wildly speculative and the second has been true of every federal program in history that disburses money to states. The fact is that withholding new money has always been sufficient in the past to get essentially unanimous buy-in from the states, and Scalia doesn't really have much basis for thinking that it wouldn't do so this time too.

The rest of the opinion follows fairly mechanically. Without the mandate and the Medicaid expansion, the exchanges don't work. Without the exchanges, the employer incentives don't work. Without those four things, the tax increases don't make sense. At this point you've gutted the all the major provisions of the act, and without them there's no way Congress would have passed any of the rest of it. This is Scalia's "Christmas tree" doctrine: "When we are confronted with such a so-called “Christmas tree,” a law to which many nongermane ornaments have been attached, we think the proper rule must be that when the tree no longer exists the ornaments are superfluous." Basically, Scalia says, the whole act was a gigantic orgy of horsetrading, and when you invalidate some pieces of the act, you have to assume that Congress wouldn't have passed any of the other pieces either.

This is a very far-reaching dissent, and goes to show just how far four members of the court are willing to go. They didn't choose the most restrained option, overruling only what they absolutely had to. They gleefully took a meat axe to everything, concluding that the only possible resolution was to completely invalidate the major provisions of the law, and then to invalidate the entire law. And although they may not have enunciated a new limiting principle on the Commerce Clause (aside from deciding that Congress can't compel activity), they made it crystal clear that they're eager to rein in Congress in the future.

What's more, unlike Chief Justice John Roberts, they showed no inclination to allow Congress to use its taxing power instead to achieve ends denied them under the Commerce Clause. This goes even beyond the 1930s court, which struck down several New Deal laws but made it clear that they'd uphold similar laws in the future if only Congress would justify them via its taxing power.

There are now four votes on the court to radically restrict the power of Congress to enact social legislation. For some reason, Roberts chose not to be a fifth vote this time, but no one knows quite why he did that. Possibly he was put off by the prospect of overturning an entire piece of landmark legislation, on a 5-4 party-line vote, based on a new and untested doctrine that had never seen the light of day prior to 24 months ago. In fact, it's possible that Roberts was initially willing to join the four conservatives, but then flipped sides when they implacably insisted on gutting the entire measure. If that's the case — and there's some evidence that it is — liberals were saved not by the force of their arguments, but purely by the intransigence of the court's conservatives.

Needless to say, we can't count on that saving us in the future. We may have won the battle today, but it doesn't seem likely that we've won the war.

UPDATE: Adam Serwer has a different take here: "The Medicaid ruling is a concern. But the good news for liberals in the Affordable Care Act ruling is concrete and easy to see. The dangers are, for now, entirely hypothetical."

I agree, and obviously this is all pretty speculative. I'm just afraid that the dangers might not stay hypothetical forever.

No, Roberts' Ruling Didn't Doom Liberalism

| Thu Jun. 28, 2012 6:20 PM EDT

There's a thread of early analysis of the Supreme Court's ruling on the Affordable Care Act that says that Justice John Roberts may have rescued the Affordable Care Act but doomed future liberal projects. This counterintuitive argument stems from Roberts' analysis of the Commerce Clause, the section of the Constitution that authorizes most of the federal government's attempts to regulate the economy.

In the court battle over Obamacare, the government had argued that the individual mandate—the part of the health care law that requires Americans to purchase health insurance or pay a fine—was constitutional because the Commerce Clause gives Congress the authority to regulate interstate commerce. The government's lawyers said that without the mandate, the health care law wouldn't work, and because not having health insurance substantially affects the health insurance market (i.e., it affects interstate commerce), it was okay to fine people for not buying insurance. Conservatives argued that the mandate was not really regulating commerce, but forcing people to engage in it. They claimed the Commerce Clause allowed Congress to regulate "activity" but not "inactivity"—a distinction found nowhere in the Constitution itself.

Chief Justice John Roberts, despite voting to uphold the individual mandate as a tax, agreed with the conservative argument. As a result, some liberals are concerned—and some conservatives and libertarians are encouraged—by Roberts' reasoning, despite the fact that Obamacare largely survived.

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Exxon CEO Thinks You're All Overreacting to Climate Change

| Thu Jun. 28, 2012 5:01 PM EDT
ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson

ExxonMobil has never been a big fan of climate science. The largest oil company in the world has been caught funding bad science on climate, and CEO Rex Tillerson has claimed previously that there are "too many complexities around climate science for anybody to fully understand all of the causes and effects." This week, Tillerson made news by acknowledging that climate change is real, it's just not that big of a deal.

The Guardian flags a speech Tillerson gave at the Council on Foreign Relations on Wednesday in which he argued that the public is "illiterate," reporters are "lazy," and climate models "are not particularly good." But he did note that climate change is happening:

So I'm not disputing that increasing CO2 emissions in the atmosphere is going to have an impact. It'll have a warming impact. The -- how large it is is what is very hard for anyone to predict. And depending on how large it is, then projects how dire the consequences are.

No worries though, Tillerson thinks the "consequences are manageable" because humans are good at adapting. This is what he told a questioner who expressed concern that burning all those fossil fuels means future generations will suffer:

What do you want to do if we think the future has sea level rising four inches, six inches? Where are the impacted areas, and what do you want to do to adapt to that? And as human beings as a -- as a -- as a species, that's why we're all still here. We have spent our entire existence adapting, OK? So we will adapt to this. Changes to weather patterns that move crop production areas around -- we'll adapt to that. It's an engineering problem, and it has engineering solutions. And so I don't -- the fear factor that people want to throw out there to say we just have to stop this, I do not accept.

I'm not really sure whether to interpret this as progress on Tillerson's part.

Study: Raising MPG Standards Creates Jobs

| Thu Jun. 28, 2012 4:31 PM EDT

Good for the environment, good for the economy—more fuel efficient cars will result in job growth according to a new study. In the analysis, the BlueGreen Alliance and the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) found that 570,000 jobs will be created in the US by 2030 with Obama's proposed fuel efficiency increase.

Luke Tonachel, a vehicles analyst with the National Resource Defense Council, explained on his NRDC blog:

1) improving automobile efficiency requires the addition of new technologies, which are designed and manufactured by adding workers in the auto industry and (2) money saved on gasoline by drivers will be spent on other goods and services, increasing jobs across the economy.

Job creation isn't the only boost the US economy could receive from the fuel efficiency standards; the study determined a net increase in annual GDP of $75 billion by 2030. Also, the efficiency standards (if achieved) would close the gap between US standards and other countries manufacturing cars—including China, Japan and the European Union. With this gap closing, researchers noted the potential to strengthen presence of US auto-manufacturers in the international market.

So fuel efficiency is a win-win-win-win (and so on), with the Obama administration set to finalize the standards by August.

On Health Care Reform: US Chamber 2, Tea Party 0

| Thu Jun. 28, 2012 4:06 PM EDT
Chief Justice John Roberts administers the oath of office to President Barack Obama.

Tea party activists are understandably apoplectic over Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling upholding President Obama's signature health care reform law. But in many ways, angry conservatives shouldn't be surprised by their loss. After all, they lost the fight over the bill back in 2010 to begin with. But more importantly, tea party activists, and radical conservative ideologues only really prevail in political fights when their interests align with those of corporate America. That's true even at the Supreme Court. And in this case, corporate America was very much on the other side of the fight.

When Obama and congressional Democrats cobbled together the deal to pass the Affordable Care Act, they were largely successful in getting all of the deep-pocketed key players on board, offering various sweeteners to get the pharmaceutical, medical and health insurance industries to back the bill. That's probably the only reason that the law passed in the first place. Healthcare reform, in turned out, could be good for business (witness the soaring stock prices of health care stocks after the Supreme Court's decision even as other stocks were falling). Conservatives seem to have forgotten that part of the story when they took the law to the Supreme Court and challenged the insurance mandate—and that's likely why they lost, too.

Was the Obamacare Dissent Originally the Majority Opinion?

| Thu Jun. 28, 2012 4:03 PM EDT

 

So this is weird. Above is an excerpt from the dissent in Thursday's Obamacare decision. Justice John Roberts joined with the liberals on the court to uphold the law. But did Roberts switch sides? The dissent (read it here, starting on page 127) repeatedly refers to the "dissent," not a majority opinion. Here's law professor David Bernstein, writing at The Volokh Conspiracy, a conservative legal blog:

Back in May, there were rumors floating around relevant legal circles that a key vote was taking place, and that Roberts was feeling tremendous pressure from unidentified circles to vote to uphold the mandate. Did Roberts originally vote to invalidate the mandate on commerce clause grounds, and to invalidate the Medicaid expansion, and then decide later to accept the tax argument and essentially rewrite the Medicaid expansion... to preserve it?

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's opinion, which was joined in part by the other liberals on the court, dissented in part from Roberts' majority ruling. So that could explain the "dissent" language. But legal scholars still seem to think it's unusual to refer to Ginsburg's opinion as a "dissent," because Ginsburg was on the winning side. Here's Georgetown University law professor Lawrence Solum, writing about the passage highlighted in the image above:

Language like this is highly suggestive of a majority opinion. The reference to the dissent and "we" strongly suggests that the "we" was a majority of the Court. This suggests that Justice Roberts switched his vote. There are other conceiveable explanations, but in my opinion, this evidence is very strong indeed.

J. Brad Delong, a blogger and economics professor at the University of California—Berkeley, notes that Justice Clarence Thomas, who authored a separate, very short additional dissent (read it here, starting on page 192), refers to the conservatives' main dissent as a "joint opinion," rather than a joint dissent, as would be standard practice. It could just be a typo—but later in the same section, Thomas does use the phrase "joint dissent." So it's unclear what's really going on here.

Volokh's Bernstein thinks that Roberts' supposed switch is a sign he was "responding to the heat from President Obama and others."* The high court is famously leak-free, but this story is so interesting, and the stakes so high, that we may actually learn more about what really happened in the weeks and months to come.

*Correction: This post originally cited a post on ToBeRight.com as an example of right-wing conspiracy theorizing about the pressure that was supposedly put on Roberts to uphold Obamacare. Blogger Violet Socks (which she says is a pseudonym) makes a convincing case that ToBeRight is actually a satirical site. Please click through to her post for the original text and a full explanation of what I did wrong. Blurgh. I regret the error.