The Interior Department on Monday ordered the National Academies of Sciences to cease all work on a study to evaluate the health effects of mountaintop coal mining in Appalachian states.

"In an August 18 letter, the U.S. Department of the Interior's Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement informed the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine that it should cease all work on a study of the potential health risks for people living near surface coal mine sites in Central Appalachia," the federally funded research institution said in a statement on Monday.

The Interior Department letter explained that it is conducting an agency-wide review of all grant programs and cooperative agreements over $100,000 as a result of the agency's changing budget situation, the National Academies stated.

Nevertheless, the leading scientific organization plans to conduct public meetings it had previously scheduled in Kentucky, Aug. 21-23, which the Interior Department allowed to proceed.

"The National Academies will go forward with previously scheduled meetings for this project in Kentucky on August 21-23 — which are allowed to proceed according to the letter — and encourages the public to attend open meetings in Hazard and Lexington on August 21 and 22," the statement read. "The National Academies believes this is an important study and we stand ready to resume it as soon as the Department of the Interior review is completed. We are grateful to our committee members for their dedication to carrying forward with this study."

The study looks at the health impacts from the form of strip mining known as mountaintop removal, which requires large amounts of dirt to be removed from the peak of a foothill or mountain to get at the coal seam below.

The removal process causes a substantial amount of sediment to be sent into the valleys and streams below. The study looks at the effects of the sediment and other effects of the strip mining method on drinking water and the local ecology "that could potentially lead to human health concerns," according to the scientific organization.