The United States Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), a coalition of businesses and environmental groups, today released its Blueprint for Legislative Action [PDF] at a press conference on Capitol Hill, and then presented it to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

With climate legislation appearing imminent, USCAP members want a voice in shaping it — and they seem to want to make sure it isn’t too stringent.

“Today, cap-and-trade legislation is a crucial component in fueling the bold clean energy investments necessary to catapult the U.S. again to preeminence in global energy and environmental policy, strengthen the country’s international competitiveness, and create millions of rewarding new American jobs,” said Jeff Immelt, chair and CEO of General Electric, a USCAP member.

Other corporate members of USCAP include General Motors, Ford, Duke Energy, Dow Chemical, and ConocoPhillips. The coalition also includes a handful of big green groups: Environmental Defense Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Nature Conservancy, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, and the World Resources Institute.

WRI President Jonathan Lash issued a statement praising the document and the partnership that produced it. “The health of our economy and the safety of our climate are inextricably linked, except nature doesn’t do bailouts,” said Lash. “USCAP has redefined what is possible. If the diverse membership of USCAP can find common ground, Congress can agree on effective legislation.”

But one environmental group, the National Wildlife Federation, pulled out of the partnership rather than sign on to the blueprint. In a statement to The Washington Post, NWF called USCAP “a welcome, strong force for action,” but said it would work separately to “enact a cap-and-invest bill that measures up to what scientists say is needed and makes bold investments in a clean energy economy.”

A number of deeper-green environmental groups have been more overtly critical of the plan.

USCAP’s blueprint calls for a national, economy-wide cap-and-trade system that would reduce greenhouse-gas emissions 14 to 20 percent by 2020, 42 percent by 2030, and 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. The plan would distribute roughly half of its carbon credits to industries at no cost, and allow a large portion of the emissions reductions to come in the form of offsets. It suggests that the starting price of carbon credits be $10 per ton, and that the price could “escalate over time at a rate greater than inflation and then flatten out around 2025.”

USCAP calls for Congress to provide “substantial financial incentives” for the development of carbon-capture-and-storage (CCS) technology, and says new coal power plants should be built so they could be retrofitted with such technology when it becomes available (assuming it becomes available). Starting in 2015, the plan calls for new coal plants to emit less CO2 than present-day plants, but until then companies could continue to build the current generation of coal-burning facilities.

The plan argues that the U.S. should take steps to curb climate change with or without China and other developing countries, but says that global cooperation should remain a priority.

Critics say the targets are too low and should instead aim for emissions cuts of 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, as called for by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They say even the current targets would be weakened because emission reductions could be made via offsets. Critics also say the plan would hand out too many free emission credits to polluting industries, in contrast to the goal set by President-elect Barack Obama to auction off 100 percent of credits. And many enviros don’t like the proposal for big CCS subsidies.

“While we welcome corporate engagement in the climate policy debate, the proposal released today by the U.S. Climate Action Partnership is deeply flawed and must not be the basis for domestic policy to address global warming,” said Friends of the Earth President Brent Blackwelder. “Put simply, the proposal would reward corporate polluters with hundreds of billions of dollars of giveaways, and its near-term pollution reduction targets are far weaker than what scientists have called for. … This is a dead-end approach that policymakers should reject.”

Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, echoed similar complaints. “Their proposed cap-and-trade program is a starting point, but it must be strengthened significantly to ensure that it’s effective,” he said. He added that emissions cuts of up to 25 percent by 2020 are “achievable with current and emerging technologies.”

 Said 1Sky Campaign Director Gillian Caldwell, “In order to create a 21st century green economy we need bold action, not loopholes. … 1Sky and its allies urge the members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to draft effective energy policy that closes loopholes, and auctions 100 percent of pollution allowances.”