A great question posed on the website of the John William Pope Foundation:

Can the free market solve environmental problems in the United States?

Ask the average American on the street, and their answer would be no: Government regulation is needed to ensure that natural resources are preserved. They might even add that a free market and a healthy environment can’t co-exist.

But what if freedom, not government, really were the best path to environmental protection? The nonprofit Property and Environment Research Center, known as PERC and based out of Bozeman, Montana, has been making that case for over three decades. In so doing, they’ve shifted the way we talk about markets and the environment in America.

 PERC’s mission is simple: Show that private property rights, far from being antithetical to the environment, actually are the best way to preserve nature and natural resources for future generations. The nonprofit primarily deals with water use, ocean fisheries, wildlife, and land conservation.

Terry Anderson, President of PERC and a Senior Fellow with Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, is quick to acknowledge the counter-intuitive premise of his organization’s mission. But according to Anderson, the intersection of free markets and the environment is one area where you truly can have your cake — and eat it, too.

“Most Americans operate under the assumption that if we have economic growth, we destroy the environment, and if we preserve the environment, we destroy economic growth,” Anderson said. “We at PERC don’t see that conflict. We see the issue not as liberty or environment. Rather, we see it as liberty and environment.”