By Jack Gerard

In his opening remarks at the Paris climate conference, President Obama stated, "We have proved that strong economic growth and a safer environment no longer have to conflict with one another." That's an important acknowledgment, but it's just as important to recognize how we got here.

Although you'd never know it from the president's speech - or policies - America's thriving natural gas production is a central factor in reducing U.S. emissions while growing the economy.

Emissions from power generation have dropped to near 20-year lows, and increased natural-gas use has been responsible for more than 62 percent of the reduction.

The American energy revolution has made clean-burning natural gas more affordable and available than ever, and power plants across the nation are making the switch.

Why is the natural-gas success story important? Because when policymakers fail to recognize market-driven success in reducing emissions, we end up with heavy-handed government regulations that hurt the economy and may even undermine environmental progress.

Like the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan. This new regulatory program seeks to reduce carbon emissions from power plants, not by encouraging continued use of natural gas - a proven solution - but by pushing the power sector to adopt more costly and intermittent sources like wind and solar.

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association projects this forced restructuring of the nation's electric grid will shut down or reduce capacity for more than 100 power plants nationwide - potentially leading to skyrocketing electricity costs for families and businesses.

EPA's own data show that plants with above average emissions could reduce them below Clean Power Plan goals through targeted switching to natural gas. In other words, the government's command-and-control regulatory intervention could be less effective, and more expensive, than the free market in cutting emissions.

We've seen this pattern before with the Renewable Fuel Standard, which forces more ethanol into the nation's fuel supply each year, regardless of market demand.

Eight years into the ethanol experiment, we now know that corn-based ethanol yields 27 percent more greenhouse gases over its full life cycle compared with regular gasoline. And by diverting nearly 40 percent of the U.S. corn crop from food to fuel, the RFS has also raised food prices 25 percent.

Gas prices could jump, too - by up to 26 cents per gallon, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Engine damage is also a threat. Ninety percent of vehicles on the road today are manufacturer-approved to use fuel with no more than 10 percent ethanol, yet continued implementation of the RFS could end up forcing more ethanol into the fuel supply than the vast majority of vehicles can safely use.

A program designed to cut emissions but actually increases them while causing widespread economic damage? This is what happens when political ideology trumps science and market reality.

Renewables like ethanol have a role to play in the fuel mix, just as wind and solar have a role to play in electricity generation. It's when the government intervenes and picks winners and losers in our energy supply that the problems start.

Free-market solutions have driven the United States to a unique position: We lead the world in both emissions reductions and in oil and natural gas production.

America's 21st-century energy renaissance is saving consumers an average of $1,200 a year per household, driving down business costs, and attracting manufacturing back to our shores.

The U.S. model demonstrates that we can increase oil and natural gas production, grow the economy, and reduce emissions - all at the same time.

Jack Gerard is president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute.