Governors participating in the final day of the Western Governors' Association meeting in Wyoming said their resource-rich region is well positioned to take the lead on the issue.
"We all know that nature abhors a vacuum, and so does politics," said Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman. "This group is very, very serious about putting forward a policy recommendation to the next administration."
Tuesday's meeting wrapped up three days of discussions on issues related to energy, climate change, water supply and wildlife habitat. Over the next several months, representatives from the governors' offices will craft the energy policy proposal.
British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell, one of four Canadian provincial leaders in attendance, said not all Canadians or Americans are convinced that climate change is real. However, he said regional governments would be negligent not to take action.
"I don't actually look at this as a challenge between the north side of the border and the south side of the border; this is a challenge for all of us," he said.
The discussion centered on the need for diverse, secure and affordable energy sources, relying both on traditional fuels such as coal and natural gas while also expanding renewable sources such as wind and solar. Government and industry officials emphasized increased conservation would be a key part of any energy policy.
The governors also focused on climate change, discussing technology and strategies for cleaning up carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels. Those strategies include emerging technologies for capturing carbon and the potential for a national "cap-and-trade" system to limit smokestack emissions and assign a monetary value to pollutants.
Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal, whose state leads the nation in coal production, said regional efforts at that type of system illustrate the lack of federal initiative.
"What you see is all of those efforts pushing in the direction of forcing the federal government to finally do what it should do and figure out how to monetize carbon and integrate that into the economy," Freudenthal said.
Jeff Immelt, chairman and chief executive of General Electric Co., attended Tuesday's meeting as a keynote speaker and participated in discussions with the governors. He said the United States is not alone in dealing with issues of how to provide clean energy and clean water, two principles he said his company is committed to.
"If we don't push it in the United States, other countries are going to do this," Immelt said. "It's not like other people are waiting for us to lead."
But delivering a federal energy policy proposal to Washington won't have much effect if it's simply a consensus document among governors, said Gov. Christine Gregoire of Washington. She said the governors should solicit officials from a range of sectors to sign the document.
"I'm behind us governors delivering something, but I think we need to deliver something more than a consensus document, and that is the hearts and minds of the people of our respective states," she said.