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A New Focus

By 1970, established residential electrification programs, especially the Medallion Home program, were becoming less important to NEMA as promotional efforts were replaced by technical, economic, and policy concerns. This change was partly a result of the “Dingell Committee” hearings of the late 1960s that brought negative publicity to the promotional efforts of utility companies that had, for two decades, pushed electrical products on consumers in order to maximize load and power consumption.

Rising fuel costs, culminating with the oil shocks of 1972 and 1973, brought about an abrupt change in American attitudes about energy consumption, disrupting the business development plans of the appliance manufacturing sections. Between 1972 and 1978, NEMA drafted a series of formal statements on national energy policy, encouraging electricity conservation and the development of new energy resources—statements that often seemed at odds with some of the association’s more aggressive product promotion ideas.

While attending to domestic politics, NEMA became closely involved with two new federal regulatory agencies: the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), both established in 1972. A strong supporter of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, NEMA lobbied for several years to get Underwriters Laboratories safety standards recognized as a minimum acceptable federal standard for import and domestic electrical products, in part because of foreign trade pressures that increased in the late 1960s. NEMA also worked closely with a number of OSHA committees on product standards and safety issues.

In the 1970s, the appliance and radio divisions left NEMA to create their own trade associations. Following this significant organizational change, NEMA redirected its attention to important technical and policy matters. In 1977, the association’s headquarters was moved from New York City to Washington, D.C., a change of venue that reflected NEMA’s strong interest in the connections between business and politics.

Consulting relationships with federal government agencies, especially the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, became stronger after the move. NEMA worked closely with the Federal Trade Commission to develop regulations that would favor established U.S. technical standards over competing foreign standards. NEMA also became involved in the national debate over possible adoption of the metric system of measurement in the United States.

By the end of the decade, international trade and policy issues seemed to dominate the work of the association, eclipsed only by the ongoing standards work that occupied the product divisions and sections. In 1978, NEMA lodged formal complaints with the U.S. Treasury and the Federal Trade Commission about foreign product dumping, charging that a consortium of Japanese companies was flooding the U.S. market with cheap AC polyphase motors. These charges were the first stirrings of foreign trade problems that were exacerbated by a downturn in the American economy. More foreign trade challenges followed, and NEMA made a number of contributions to trade legislation in the early 1980s, in many ways continuing the work that the NEMA tariff committee had done before the Great Depression.

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