DES MOINES, Iowa, March 7, 2015 – Jeb Bush, forced to address two landmines that face his potential presidential candidacy in Iowa, said ethanol needs "certainty' from federal policy and called for giving undocumented workers a path to legal status.

Speaking at the historic Iowa Ag Summit, the former Florida governor also criticized President Obama for seeking to open trade with Cuba.

Under questioning by the summit’s sponsor, ethanol industry leader Bruce Rastetter,  Bush sought to emphasize that he saw a bright, long-term future for renewable energy and he called on the EPA to act on finalizing long-delayed annual targets for ethanol and biodiesel. He stopped well short of saying that EPA should maintain the mandates at the levels set by the 2007 energy law, but Bush clearly wants to be competitive in Iowa. 

“Creating a certain playing field has to be part of the answer," Bush said, adding that “whether it’s ethanol or any other alternative fuel, whether it’s renewable or otherwise, the markets are ultimately going to have to decide this. “

As for wind power, he quipped, “I love it for Iowa. It’s not so good for Florida.” He lauded the industry as an example of innovation but said the production tax credit that subsidizes wind power should be phased out in three to five years.

Immigration is an especially thorny issue for Bush in Iowa, given the concerns about undocumented workers in the rural Midwest.

In a bow to concerns about border security, he said his immigration policy would start “with recognizing that the rule of law is a sacred value in our country” and a reliable E-Verify system for employers to check the legal status of applicants.

But he also doubled down on his support for eventually providing immigrants a “path to legalized status,” so long as they pay fines and learn English. It is unrealistic to expect illegal immigrants now in the country illegal to be “rounded up and taken away,” Bush said. He expressed support for expanding guestworker programs, a key issue for agribusiness and the food industry.

On other issues, Bush endorsed biotechnology and ruled out requiring labeling of GMO foods. “We should not be trying to make it harder for that kind of technology to exist," he said.

He expressed support for the country-of-origin labeling law, which is being challenged by Mexico and Canada at the World Trade Organization, and received applause when he said he likes to buy Iowa beef.

Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, said he liked what he heard from Bush as well as from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the first potential candidate that Rastetter interviewed Saturday.

Bush’s “support for the RFS, his acknowledgment that the RFS has most certainly worked, is a good step,” Dinneen said. “I think he’ll get better as he understands more of what this means for rural economies.”