In an interview, Jackson said she believes that people in the United States still want to protect the environment. "There's a large gulf between the rhetoric inside the Beltway to do everything from cut back on EPA to get rid of the whole place, and what the American people would actually stand for," she said. "It's very easy to make rash statements without thinking about what that means to the health of everyday Americans."
A 2010 Pew Research Center survey showed that 57 percent of those questioned held a favorable view of the EPA, compared with a 1997 poll that showed 69 percent with a positive view of the agency. A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll taken last year found that 71 percent of people surveyed said that the government should continue provide money to the EPA to enforce regulations to address global warming and other environmental issues.
[Read: Lisa Jackson's EPA Goes Rogue.]
"We are not done. We still have challenges we have to face," Jackson said.
The agency last year began a volunteer photography project called State of the Environment. More than 620 people have participated and submitted 1,800 photographs, but only a few are at the same sites at the 1970s project.
Images always have spurred environmental consciousness. A 1980s satellite picture of the ozone hole helped lead to a ban on the chemicals in aerosol cans and refrigerants that were responsible. Underwater video of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 opened the public's eyes to the gravity of the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
But a second Documerica project, with professional photographers, would be impossible today, given budget cuts facing the agency and the wariness of industry barring access by photographers.
Lyntha Scott Eiler, 65, shot photographs for Documerica around her then-home in northern Arizona, as well as one of the early emissions testing sites for automobile exhaust in Hamilton County, Ohio. At the Navajo Generating Station in Arizona, Eiler got right down in a strip mine "where the shovels were."
"They weren't afraid of the EPA, so it was, 'What else you do you want to get a photograph of?,'" Eiler said. "You probably would have a hard time doing that today."
Follow Dina Cappiello's environment coverage on Twitter (at)dinacappiello
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.