Southern governors whose states represent one of the nation's major energy producing regions are working on a comprehensive plan to reduce the South's carbon footprint and create jobs.

"This is a real opportunity for us," Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine said Monday during the closing day of the Southern Governors Association conference at the Greenbrier.

Southern states are already working individually to reduce energy use and develop better technology, but need a unified voice to help shape the national debate, he said.

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin said more federal research dollars are needed to develop clean-coal technologies, especially if coal is going to continue to account for about half of the nation's energy use.

"Coal and nuclear are carrying the load," Manchin said. But he said they account for a disproportionately small share of research funding.

Many of the region's universities, including the University of Kentucky and Duke University in North Carolina, are eager to assist with research, officials representing both institutions told the governors.

A clear strategy is important to solving the ongoing energy crisis, Kaine said. Investors won't sink money into developing clean energy unless they feel confident the incentives will be available long-term.

He said it was discouraging when federal wind power incentives were allowed to expire.

As the association's incoming chairman, Kaine will lead the southern governors' initiative.

"We're beginning the dialogue today," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, everything's on the table."